DOD details strict flash drive rules

Devices no longer banned, but still controlled

The Defense Department was able to lift a ban on portable storage devices such as thumb drives because of changes to DOD computer systems that make the devices safer to use, Vice Adm. Carl Mauney, deputy commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, said today. But that doesn't mean personnel have carte blanche. DOD still maintains strict rules for the devices.

“After extensive testing of mitigation measures, DOD decided to make this technology available again on a strictly controlled basis on DOD computers,” Mauney said via e-mail. “Since the order restricting use of removable media, DOD developed capabilities and processes that allow safe use of these devices. Removable media use will be limited to mission-essential operations, and only after strict compliance requirements are met.”

The new policy, issued Feb. 12, only applies to government-procured and government-owned devices, Mauney said. Personally owned devices are still barred from all DOD networks and computers. Flash media can only be used as a last resort to transfer data from one location to another, and only when other authorized network resources are not available, he said.

Related story:

DOD lifts USB ban


Randomly selected users and drives will be subject to periodic auditing, under the new policy. Individual services and agencies will determine whether flash media may be used in their individual organizations, Mauney said.

Some in the military found the all out ban too restrictive, according to one DOD source. The new policy is a compromise.

“This is not a return to 'business as usual,'” Mauney said. “There remain strict limitations on using these devices. Use will be permitted only in DOD computers that are in compliance with requirements for hardware that allows for safe transfer of data.”

For now, Army officials plan to keep the ban on flash drives in place, according to the Army News Service.

“We are currently conducting mission analysis in order to provide guidance for the Army's safe return of thumb drives and flash media,” officials from the Army Global Network Operations Security Center said, according to the news service.

The ban was issued in November 2008 after a virus was found to be spreading through military networks by copying itself from one removable drive to another. The ban covered all forms of USB flash media, such as thumb drives, memory sticks and cards, and camera memory cards, as well as some other removable media.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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