USB drives, also known as thumb drives, flash drives and USB sticks, have become a popular form for storing and transporting files from one computer to another. Their appeal lies in the fact that they are small, readily available, inexpensive, and extremely portable.

With easy storage and portability comes a responsibility to ensure sensitive business data that can be placed on portable devices is safe and secure. However, these same characteristics make them attractive to attackers and also makes them more dangerous than previously thought. It’s not just USB drives that are at risk, any device that plugs into a USB port including electronic picture frames, iPods, and cameras can be used to spread malware.

Embedded within USB devices, from thumb drives thorough keyboards to smartphones, is a controller chip which allows the device and a computer it’s connected to, to send information back and forth. It’s this which means their malware doesn’t sit in flash memory, but rather is hidden away in firmware, undeletable by all but the most technically knowledge. This fundamental design flaw leaves USB devices easily open for an attack.

There are numerous ways for attackers to use USB drives to infect computers. One method is to install malicious code, or malware, on the device that can detect when it is plugged into a computer. When the USB drive is plugged into a computer, the malware infects that computer. Another method is to download sensitive information directly onto a USB drive. The only thing needed to accomplish this is physical access to a computer on the network. Even computers that have been turned off may be vulnerable, because a computer’s memory is still active for several minutes without power. If an attacker can plug a USB drive into the computer during that time, he or she can quickly reboot the system from the USB drive and copy the computer’s memory, including passwords, encryption keys, and other sensitive data, onto the drive.

Possible threats to data

Malware Infection

  • Malware spreads through USB storage devices. Somebody may intentionally sell USB storage devices with malware to track your activities, files, systems and networks.
  • Malware may spread from one device to another device through USB Storage Devices using autorun.exe, which is by default enabled.
  • Somebody may steal your USB Devices for Data.

Unauthorised Usage

Steps to protect your USB’s data

  • Take advantage of security features– Use passwords and encryption on your USB drive to protect your data, and make sure that you have the information backed up in case your drive is lost.
  • Keep personal and business USB drives separate– Do not use personal USB drives on company computers, and do not plug USB drives containing corporate information into your personal computer.
  • Use security software and keep all software up to date– Use a firewall, anti-virus software, and anti-spyware software to make your computer is less vulnerable to attacks, and make sure to keep the virus definitions current.
  • Do not plug an unknown USB drive into your computer– If you find a USB drive, do not plug it into your computer to view the contents or to try to identify the owner.
  • Disable Autorun– The Autorun feature in Windows causes removable media such as CDs, DVDs, and USB drives to open automatically when they are inserted into a drive. By disabling Autorun, you can prevent malicious code on an infected USB drive from opening automatically.
  • Develop and enforce USB drive-related policies– Make sure employees are aware of the dangers associated with USB drives and what your company policy is on the proper use of them.
Hayden McMaster