USB drives (me to distraction)

Okay, that’s the industry guys taken care of. Now let’s look at the software and utilities that should be in your toolbox for working either with, or against, the spreading use of these devilish little devices. Microsoft is firmly in the ‘with’ camp, since it has provided the Microsoft USB Flash Drive Manager, which you can search for at www.microsoft.com. This utility manages several procedures that are important to solitary users who want to use a USB device as a backup for their ‘My documents’ folder (or vice versa). It’s friendly, it’s wordy and it adds a couple of other little tricks such as setting the autorun attribute for an executable file stored on a USB flash drive.

USB drives (me to distraction)

This is little more than a trinket in terms of handling the network presence or management of USB flash drives. There are pages of utilities at the most-visited software sources (such as www.download.com), all of which offer much the same facilities – little programs to turn your USB flash drive into a password dongle, or to keep your XP profile on it and thereby hide your Settings and Favorites from other users of the family PC. The trend toward intense privacy of information and usage patterns, which is facilitated by the keyring status of these USB flash drives, is something the shareware community finds irresistibly appealing, and you’ll have no difficulty digging up at least 20 programs to encrypt your drive, lock your PC when the drive is taken out of the slot, store your Windows or Citrix passwords and so on. These are the exact reverse of the abilities that network administrators need.

The good stuff is coming out of the corporate software market, and with a bit more searching I found three solid contenders for every LAN manager’s toolbox. The first is GFI LANguard Portable Storage Control. GFI has been around for quite a while in the LAN software marketplace, and its networked FAXMaker product has been a mainstay of the LAN-based faxing business since the 1990s. GFI’s portfolio of products can be seen at www.gfi.com, and in the case of the LANguard offering the firm’s approach to downloadable trials shows it to be a canny long-term player in the small networking business. Provided you have a sensible conversation with the company by email about the evaluation version you downloaded, it will leave you at the end of the trial with a restricted-ability five-user version, which offers a nice balance between the pressure of corporate marketing on the one hand and the needs of the very smallest networks on the other.

But what does it actually do? LANguard installs onto a workstation and relates an XP security group (whether local to that machine, in a peer-to-peer setup, or from the main domain Active Directory groups) to a particular collection of removable storage devices, which can include floppies, CD-Rs and, of course, USB flash drives. If a user’s login identity isn’t in the relevant security group, they can kiss goodbye to reading or writing those devices. LANguard is actually part of a larger platform that handles more LAN management and reporting tasks, so it has all the configurability you could ask for. You can either use the default group names that LANguard adds to your security setup, or else add the privilege and control system to groups you’ve already set up for other purposes. There’s a management console program to set all this up, but it’s all strictly about group activities – there’s no logging of drives being inserted or removed, or what’s been copied to them, for instance.

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