Moving data between computers has always posed problems, particularly to those charged with ensuring that systems (especially Personal systems) run efficiently and legally whilst any valuable data is sufficiently protected. In the old days of the early nineties floppy disks were employed to shift information (and viruses) between PCs. Whilst email is today often the major transportation system employed, the use of USB memory stick devices is growing.
The Smart DiskOnKey platform is the technology behind many of the leading USB memory sticks on the market. It was developed by M-Systems, the holder of the USB flash drive patent and inventor of USB storage. The latest versions of M-Systems USB memory sticks come armed with a 32-bit processor in addition to raw memory capacity perhaps signalling a move from 'dumb' to 'smart' storage.
Smart storage could allow users to run complex applications from their USB devices, thereby potentially improving security and facilitating mobile working. For example, the Xkey 2.0, Exchange Edition, is one of M-System's offerings that has been created by KeyComputing, an M-Systems' subsidiary that creates software extensions to the Smart DiskOnKey platform. The Xkey 2.0 transforms a USB device into a personal server, effectively turning any PC into a corporate workstation.
Xkey 2.0 allows users to work on all aspects of their Exchange system - mail, calendar, contacts and Public Folders - from any PC. Xkey synchronises directly with an Exchange server. The solution embeds a microprocessor, relational database, SSL engine, Java application server, security applications and a cryptographic core to deliver access to Exchange without leaving any valuable information, including temporary files, on the host PC. Where the host system requires files to exist physically on the PC, "shortcut" pointers or stubs are employed that point to files held on the USB stick.
It should be noted that the Xkey blocks malicious spyware applications such as key logging and removes all traces associated with a Web browser, such as cookies, history and temporary files. Furthermore, Xkey encrypts all information on the device. Without the user's password, data on the device cannot be accessed greatly increasing the security of the mail information should the stick be either lost or stolen, eventualities that are by no means unlikely.
With raw data capacities of one Gigabyte now available, this exchange on a stick solution may be attractive to both existing laptop users and to those without such portable computers. For laptop users, an Xkey 2.0 (Exchange Edition) device could be a useful standby in the event of PC loss, damage or theft. For others, the stick could be a relatively cheap and secure travel option.
It will be interesting to see how the uptake of these devices evolves and to follow new applications as they utilise the new technology. Such sticks could play a significant role in modern business, but they could also make the life of the IT manager, the security manager and those charged with managing corporate compliance efforts even more difficult.