[ISN] Sneakernet Redux: Walk Your Data

From: InfoSec News (isnat_private)
Date: Tue Aug 27 2002 - 06:02:11 PDT

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    http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,54739,00.html
    
    By Paul Boutin 
    2:00 a.m. Aug. 26, 2002 PDT 
    
    Out: the Internet. In again: sneakernet.
    
    While Internet speeds stagnate and firewalls proliferate, portable
    storage media have been screaming ahead in capacity, transfer speed
    and, most importantly, ease of use. As a result, computer users are
    bypassing cyberspace and burning discs or toting plug-and-play drives
    instead.
    
    System administrators coined the term "sneakernet" more than 15 years
    ago to jokingly describe "transfer of electronic information by
    physically carrying tape, disks or some other media from one machine
    to another," according to Eric Raymond's Jargon File.
    
    But four years after pundits trashed Steve Jobs for refusing to allow
    a floppy drive on the original iMac, CDs have essentially replaced
    floppies and magnetic tapes.
    
    Gartner analyst Mary Craig has estimated 50 million CD burners will be
    sold in 2002. CD readers are built into "virtually every home and
    business computer" currently in use, according to the Optical Storage
    Technology Association.
    
    At Wal-Mart, disc burners are standard fare on sub-$800 PCs. Nearly 4
    billion blank CDs - found next to the candy in checkout lines - will
    be sold this year, says the International Recording Media Association.
    
    Yet newer portable media make the 20-year-old CD-ROM format feel like
    writing on a wet napkin. A 1-GB USB drive, thinner than a pack of gum,
    can hang innocuously from a key chain.
    
    Larger drives not much bigger than a personal CD player hold up to 160
    GB - enough space for 3,200 albums in MP3 format. Data-mongers say
    shipping such a drive via FedEx is faster and more reliable than
    transferring bits over the Internet.
    
    "If you're trying to copy something from home to work or vice versa,
    it makes a lot more sense to just carry it," said J.D. Falk, a Unix
    administrator from Oakland, California. "I used to FTP (file transfer
    protocol) files, but it took a long time, and it sucked up all my
    bandwidth at home."
    
    Falk now transfers software demos and other data using a 3-GB drive
    with both USB and FireWire cables, making it hot-swappable on most
    computers.
    
    "Scott McNealy used to talk about the ability to sit down at any
    computer anywhere and have all your data in front of you," he said.  
    "That doesn't happen over the network yet, but it can happen if you
    have all your data in your pocket."
    
    Security consultant Derek Pearcy likewise says key-chain drives give
    him "everything I require to do my job in nothing larger than I can
    ... carry in a cupped palm."
    
    Even cute little electronics gadgets now come packed with enough
    memory capacity to hold years' worth of e-mail and documents. "Once I
    started using Compact Flash for my camera, I found it was a perfect
    portable storage medium," said amateur photographer Troy Sheets, who
    uses the matchbook-sized cards to transfer files between computers, up
    to one-half GB at a time.
    
    The coolest sneakernet accessory is, of course, Apple's iPod. Hackers
    quickly realized the fetishized MP3 player was, at its heart, a
    FireWire drive, with up to 20-GB capacity on new models.
    
    Posters to the iPodHacks.com website share tips for using the device
    as a portable boot disk: Mac users can drag their system disk onto an
    iPod before leaving on a trip, and then plug it into a friend's Mac at
    their destination.
    
    Rebooting from the iPod instead of the Mac (a practice Apple claims is
    unsupported) creates a mirror image of one's home computer, including
    the operating system and all personal files. Boot again from the Mac,
    and the iPod can be taken home with any newly downloaded e-mail or
    edited files, leaving the host's computer safely unmodified.
    
    At the other end of the scale, a recent paper from Microsoft Research
    seriously suggested a terabyte-scale sneakernet for supersize system
    backups and data exchange.
    
    "The Next Generation Internet (NGI) promised gigabit-per-second
    bandwidth desktop-to-desktop by the year 2000," the paper says.  
    "Unfortunately, most of us are still waiting."
    
    FireWire and USB 2.0 drives can spew a CD's worth of data in well
    under a minute.
    
    But it's not just size and speed luring users away from the Net.  
    Strict firewall configurations and procedural guidelines at corporate
    offices often make it simpler to burn a disc than e-mail an
    attachment.
    
    "It's often difficult as a matter of policy to get onto a customer's
    network," said Richard Threadgill, founder of security consulting firm
    Ponte, who has been working with computer data since the 1970s.
    
    "There was a point in 1997 or so where you stopped having to ask, 'Can
    I e-mail this to you,' because it just worked," he said. "But now,
    when you're sitting 5 feet away from the guy, but you have to get
    access from your computer to his network, punch through to your
    network, e-mail a file through his network to your mail serve and back
    to his again, then he still has to transfer the file to the right
    computer, but it's already got a CD-R drive ... it's a lot easier to
    just ask for a blank CD."
    
    Threadgill cautioned against industry observers who presume those 4
    billion blanks this year will be used by music pirates. "I see it
    happening way more with PowerPoint than with MP3," he said.
    
    It seems no matter how much capacity hardware makers give them, avid
    computer users will find ways to fill it.
    
    Science fiction writer and one-man zeitgeist Cory Doctorow has touted
    the iPod-as-travel-Mac trick in the past. But now, Doctorow said, "I
    haven't been doing it much lately. My iPod is full of tunes."
    
    
    
    
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