updated 9/13/2004 1:20:19 PM ET 2004-09-13T17:20:19

For years, programmers at Microsoft Corp. and elsewhere have worked to make it easier for devices like cell phones and personal digital assistants to work instantly and easily with computers.

Now, Microsoft is working to make it a little harder.

The reason: As such devices including Apple Computer Inc.'s popular iPods become capable of holding more data, some worry people could use them to steal data or unleash virus attacks on business networks.

With its next version of Windows, dubbed Longhorn and due out in 2006, Microsoft is working on technology that will give companies more control over whether to prohibit devices that can easily be used to transfer data to and from personal computers, said Greg Sullivan, a lead product manager. (MSNBC is a Microsoft - NBC joint venture.)

The goal is to have a system where people can use devices that help them in their work — such as a smart phone full of professional contacts — but not storage devices that could be used to quickly steal data.

Sullivan said the company introduced an early version of this technology with Service Pack 2, the security upgrade for the Windows XP operating system completed in early August.  But that system works more by "brute force," Sullivan said, and the eventual goal is to make it easier and more refined.

He said the technology was in the planning stages and offered few details.

The technology is part of Microsoft's broader efforts to improve security. The company has tried hard over the last several years to make devices interact easily with Windows, Sullivan said, "and now it's incumbent on us also to make sure we're responding to user needs with regard to security."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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