Understanding the threats and risk of USB Flash Drive Malware

Plugging an unattended USB flash drive to a host system or network is no less than a threat. Such drives can be infected with viruses and ransomware which later can be used to disrupt the operation of a business.

Purpose of using malicious USB sticks

Malicious USB sticks are leveraged where an attacker needs physical access to a computer. The first incident was observed back in 2010 when the notorious Stuxnet worm was distributed via USB sticks to launch attacks on the networks of an Iranian facility.

Other malware that used USB flash drives for propagation include:

  • The Duqu collection of computer malware.
  • The Flame modular computer malware.

What can a bad USB stick do?

A malicious device can install a wide range of malware such as backdoors, trojans, and information stealers. They can also install browser hijackers that will redirect a victim to the hacker’s website of choice, which could host more malware, or inject adware, spyware or greyware on target computers.

How to protect systems from malicious USB drives?

  • Do not plug unknown flash drives into computers that are critical to an organization, This is a social engineering tactic where the attacker relies on the curiosity of people.
  • Don’t use the same flash drive for home and work computers. This can reduce the risk of cross-contaminating your computers.
  • Always enable security features such as fingerprint authentication to secure USB drives. This will help protect the device from hackers.
  • Keep the software on your computer up-to-date as the update includes crucial patches for known vulnerabilities.