Pat Vickers, Expert in Help Desk Management

IT Security and the Thumb Drive

One of the banes of the IT manager’s existence is data security, particularly customer data. Being connected to the rest of the world, allowing customers in and employees out while keeping the data safe from prying eyes is a high wire act performed daily by IT shops around the world. The problem is most of them are working without a net, thanks to one of our favorite gadgets, the thumb drive.

I love thumb drives. I have the Swiss army knife with a built in USB drive on my key chain. Anywhere I drive I have my thumb drive with me and as an American that means every. I drive everywhere. I even drive to go walking.

The problem with thumb drives is everyone likes them and they are actually completely user friendly. The most inept user can stick one in a computer copy their email, or customer files to it then carry it with them to a bar, the gym, their kid’s ball game, or a crowded train filled with pick pockets. Let’s face it. The data in most offices is only as secure as their most inept employee.

So what’s the answer? Obviously the simplest answer is to shut down all USB ports on all computers, which actually isn’t all that simple. Since most offices are on Domains I thought GPOs are the best way to block ports but GPOs are extremely complicated. I spent several hours one day, trying to figure out the right combination, and the only thing I accomplished was losing access to my own optical drive. GPOs aren’t my specialty but I haven’t spoken to anyone who managed to figure it out. I read about a company in the UK that got so fed up they blocked all the USB ports by filling them in with clear caulk. That seems a bit drastic but I kind of get it.

There are better methods, most of which involve encryption. Encryption can also be pretty complicated but most IT pros have little problem with applying them. The problem is they generate a lot more requests for user assistance.  An increase in calls is a pain but when the request is “I need help decrypting this file so I can copy it to my thumb drive” you can just say no and mentally add that user to your list of problem children.

My personal opinion is the best solution to the thumb drive battle is twofold. 1. Start by having a good relationship with users. In an “US verses Them” culture you will always be outnumbered and out flanked. 2. Have strict security policies in place, with easy to understand explanations of why data security is important for everyone. If you don’t have a good security policy you can start with the IT Security Manual Template. It’s a pretty good toolkit for setting up and following strong everyday practices. Or you could go to the hardware store and buy a caulk gun.

Jeff’s Quick Tips: Comparing two Excel lists

In this edition of Jeff’s Quick Tips, I’ll tell you how Excel’s COUNTIF function made me the hero for a client who needed to analyze a lot of data in a hurry.

The Dilemma
I got an email with a workbook attached and one sentence:  “I need to know any duplicates and keep those.”

Translation:  The client had a list of tens of thousands of marketing account codes in one column, and another list of only a few thousand similar-looking marketing codes in another column. What the client really wanted to know was:  “How many of the codes in the second column appear in (are duplicated in) the first column?”

The Solution
This solution I used was a formula that looks at each value in column B and says, “How many times does that value appear in column A?” Ladies and gentlemen, I give you that formula:  =COUNTIF(A:A,B2). The following screen shots show how it works on some dummy data.

Which records in the first list are also in the second list?

The user wanted to know which records in Control List appeared in the Big List.


The solution used was the formula =COUNTIF(A:A,B2), which says “Count how many times what’s in B2 appears anywhere in Column A.”


The COUNTIF funtion tells how many times each entry in column B appears in column A.


Use Data | Filter to un-check the records in the second list that weren’t found (the ones where COUNTIF returned 0).

The Final Report

I’m not sure why the client needed to compare these lists or what he would do with the “duplicates,” but I was 100% sure he had the right result.


Here’s what the final output looked like: The COUNTIF function told us not only which records were “duplicated” in the big list, it told us how many times the value appeared.


ToolTalk BackDid you find this tip useful? We’d love to hear your feedback in the Comments section below.

Welcome to Readers of ToolTalk Weekly

Greetings, and welcome to the home of ToolTalk Weekly! This e-newsletter each week brings you IT management advice and free IT productivity tools from ToolkitCafe’s contributing writers and IT pros from around the world.

As your host and emcee for the ToolTalk Weekly online show, I’ll make sure that ToolTalk Weekly subscribers are the first to know when new toolkits and productivity tools are ready for downloading.

While you’re here, take a look at our newest product- the Bring Your Own Device Policies and Procedures Kit.

We at ToolTalk Weekly invite you to let us know what you think about the e-newsletter by emailing or us posting on


Jeff Davis
Editor-in-Chief, ToolTalk Weekly

Round Up Them Telecommuters!

Managers, don’t let your telecommuters grow up to be cowboys! Or, to put it another way, before you start letting people work from home, you need to train them. Telecommuters need to know all the requirements and obligations – legal, financial and technological — that come along with the privilege of the work-from-home gig. The telecommuting employee should be trained in the following:Telecommuting Toolkit for IT - BIG

1. Understanding and completing the requisite paperwork.
2. Setting aside a dedicated workspace at the telecommuting location.
3. Ensuring adequate privacy and security for the workplace
4. Correctly installing the hardware, drivers and software required
5. Maintaining data and network security
6. Coordinating with other employees, attending necessary meetings in person or online

If you don’t want to create Training for Telecommuters from scratch, check out the Telecommuting Toolkit for IT, which includes a template Power Point Presentation you can customize to train your employees looking to move to a telecommuting arrangements.


You want to connect to the network on WHAT?

Who else remembers the good old days, when IT shops ruled their shops with  aluminum alloy fists and no one outside the IT department dared touch a cable or move a monitor? At the risk of sounding like a Luddite,  I don’t like the Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) movement, no, not one bit.  I like the control, consistency, and security of knowing my users connect to the corporate network using only company-provisioned machines.

Now people who don’t know a bit from a byte think they’re computer experts because they can tap-tap on their phones and surf the Web.  Big whoop.  And they all think they should be able to get their work email and connect to their work networks from their phones, too.

I understand the convenience of checking email anywhere, any time, but I doubt whether it’s efficient for anybody to try to do real writing and editing work on anything but a full-size keyboard.

But if the people want to “bring their own” tablets, phablets, smartphones, dumb phones, and Pong machines with them wherever they go so they can work any time, who are we — The Computer People — to judge them or to engage in an un-winnable battle to put the BYOD genie back in the bottle.

If you’re trying to figure out the best way to implement BYOD in your shop,  Toolkit Café has a product that can help:  The  BYOD Policies and Procedures Toolkit.  The BYOD toolkit includes  the tools and templates you need to lay down the BYOD law to your end users and create a paper trail of documentation for your next IT security audit. Try the BYOD kit risk-free for 30 days, and come back to this page and let us know what you think of it.