Nortel is aiming to transform the USB port from a security liability to a vital aid to safe working – at least for remote working, and health workers in Liverpool are already putting the technology to good use.
The company is promoting an "office on a stick," a USB drive that can link an employee's PC with a corporate VPN and keep all the information from a session encrypted.
The drive is similar to a typical USB (Universal Serial Bus) drive with 1G byte or 2G bytes of storage, and is just one piece of the Nortel Secure Portable Office, a product that also includes a Nortel VPN (virtual private network) gateway and services to help enterprises set up policies and user permissions.
As work becomes more mobile for many enterprises, IT departments are coming up against the simultaneous growth of privacy regulations and worries about data theft.
They commonly use software VPNs to keep remote work secure, but Nortel is aiming to do so without the need for VPN client software or URLs (uniform resource locators) that employees have to remember. With the software for a VPN session residing on the USB drive, users also can log in from almost any PC.
To use the USB stick, workers can simply plug it into a USB port and enter a username and password, said Rod Wallace, director of security services and solutions at Nortel.
Software on the stick first checks the PC for viruses and required security mechanisms, and then sets up an encrypted remote session.
It typically will provide access to remote applications via the Web browser or another method. It can completely take over the system using a remote desktop and block off printing, document-saving and remote drives, preventing employees from improperly copying sensitive data.
The remote session is encrypted and all data the employee enters or downloads can go directly from the PC's memory onto the encrypted USB drive, Wallace said. As a result, IT administrators can know that sensitive information isn't out in the world on PCs they can't control. Policies can be configured so that users who plug the drive into less-secure PCs get either limited or no access to applications, he said.
The Secure Portable Office has been deployed to community-based midwives who work at Liverpool Women's Hospital. They can enter and access patient records while away from the hospital and keep them private, without needing client software or complex log-in procedures, Wallace said.
The Nortel Secure Portable Office is available worldwide. For a typical enterprise deployment supporting 100 or more concurrent users, it costs between US$30,000 (£16,3000 and $60,000 (£32,600) for the complete package including services.