Posted by: Tessa Parmenter
network device management, Network devices, Network security, Networking, USB, USB port blocking
CableOrganizer.com asked me to review a few products as part of a data theft prevention promotion they were advertising. One such appliance was a USB port block.
You may be wondering why you would want to block ports on your laptop, and if that’s the case, then here is why network administrators call it the “evil USB port.”
The answer simply is that USB storage devices pose a network security threat to corporate data. MCSE Brien Posey wrote in his article on stopping USB storage devices, that unblocked USB ports could be where an aloof network user places an infected USB device, or where a disobedient employee could easily offload unlicensed software or programs. Unblocked USB ports could also lead to corporate espionage. Imagine a disgruntled employee slipping in a thumb drive and downloading several MBs of sensitive enterprise data in a flash. (By the way, you can check out this guide on network user management to learn about managing problem network users).
While Posey mentions one way to physically block your port drives is to pump it full of epoxy, that also disables ports — even for valid means. He writes:
One of the biggest arguments against plugging up a computer’s USB ports with epoxy is that doing so usually voids the system’s warranty. I have also heard unconfirmed stories of technicians turning on a PC before the epoxy is completely dry and causing damage to the system board as a result.
In preventing USB device use with Windows Vista group policy, Posey talks about how you can disable ports through the systems BIOS, or through Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008 policy settings. However, if you don’t use Windows Server 2008 or Vista, you may be stuck. What are your other options? A port block perhaps.
A USB port block is tiny plate of metal (or some alloy of metals) that covers ports. I’ve shown a larger-than-life picture of one to the right here. Rather than glue your port, you can simply cover it while allowing authorized USB devices when you need it. It sure beats epoxy, and they’re relatively cheap. CableOrganizer.com’s USB Port Block was priced at $4.97, and I saw one from Katerno priced at $3.49. Of course, compared to a $20.00 bottle of epoxy, glue would cover more ports at a smaller cost — but the end result could be far more expensive if the computer malfunctions.
The downside of using a USB port block is that you need to have a tool called a USB lock to fasten it to your computer. You’d also have to go to each port of each computer in your office if you wanted to block ports across your enterprise. However, for CEOs or employees who travel often, or more than most, it may be a way to heighten their laptop security in a pinch. Very little technical experience is needed to place one in your port. You could even get a remote employee to install it themselves provided they had a USB lock.