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No rush to offer USB antivirus

Security vendors say while attacks via removable devices can occur, Net-based threats are far more numerous and should be the focus of protection efforts.
Written by Vivian Yeo, Contributor

Attacks that spread using mobile storage devices are but a small part of the overall threat landscape, and hence security vendors such as F-Secure and Trend Micro are not rushing to provide protection for such devices.

In October, flash storage product maker SanDisk announced its Cruzer range of enterprise USB drives will be equipped with antivirus protection from McAfee by year-end. Roy Ramati, SanDisk's vice president and general manager for enterprise, said in a statement that the collaboration would allow customers--mobile workers and IT staff--to "extend their security perimeter to mobile storage".

However, Anthony Ung, Trend Micro's enterprise product marketing manager for the Asia-Pacific region, pointed out that the volume of malware that use removable devices such as USB flash drives, is "very small". On the other hand, over 95 percent of threats originate from the Internet and there has been a 540 percent increase in Web threats since 2005, Ung told ZDNet Asia in a phone interview.

"That is not to say there are no threats on USB drives," said Ung. "A lot of USB drives now self-execute, therefore infection takes place."

Chia Wing Fei, security response manager at F-Secure Security Labs, noted in an e-mail that to mitigate the risk of malware infections or data loss from USB-based attacks, there were "other more cost-effective countermeasures" that enterprises can implement. "A common security practice that many organizations implement is to disable the auto-play function of CDs, DVDs or any other removable device.

"Once this function has been disabled, no automated execution of malware on the removable device such as USB sticks can happen," said Chia. "At the moment, the threats that we face are more prevalent on the Internet and we see more attempts to spread malware over this medium as compared to using removable devices."

Chia added that another approach is to install "comprehensive security software" on user computers, as the software would scan removable devices to detect malware.

Asian users to gain?
Trend Micro's Ung noted that a number of users, particularly consumers, do not have anti-malware protection in their PCs.

Citing some studies, Trend Micro's Ung noted that nearly 100 percent of enterprises in industrialized countries have some form of protection on their machines. However, in emerging economies, the proportion would be significantly lower.

"In Asia, something like [USB-based antivirus] could be helpful," said Ung, adding that Trend Micro plans to roll out antivirus protection specific for mobile storage devices in the first half of 2009.

F-Secure's Chia did not indicate any plans for such a product, noting that the company is, at the moment, focused on securing end-points through partnerships with Internet service providers.

Both SanDisk and McAfee were unable to respond to ZDNet Asia's queries in time for the article.

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