Thumb drives (or flash or USB drives) are mini storage units for documents, pictures or other files. They are small and portable, making them a convenient storage option. Thumb drives have become so popular and commonplace that they are often given away as promotional items. Despite their popularity, you must be very careful about where and how you use your USB drive. Using that free promotional USB may not always be a good idea.
Just like how a cough into the hand can spread infection amongst people, USB storage devices carelessly plugged into other systems can wreak havoc on the health of your computer. Malware programs are viruses that can be spread across computer systems. USB thumb drives can pick up the virus from an infected device or computer and then infect the next device they are plugged into. Common types of infectious data are worms, Trojan horses, rootkits, spyware and spam. These programs exploit vulnerability on the drive, run hidden programs and infect the operating system. A new form of malware called BadUSB operates from the controller chips inside the USB drive. It makes the USB drive look like something else (like a keyboard) and then uses that opportunity to take control of the computer, extract infiltrated data or spy on the user.
Malware is transferred using the AutoRun feature of a USB. When a USB thumb drive is plugged into a device, a program called AutoRun is triggered to automatically run detection of the device and activate the folder for browsing. Once AutoRun is initiated, the device into which the USB is plugged becomes infected by the malware program and can cause damage or data loss.
Because the transmission of malware is so dangerous, it is helpful to know that there are precautions you can take to prevent a damaging exchange:
- Find out if a thumb drive is necessary at work. Companies can keep track of whenever USB thumb drives are used and can test untrusted drives. Some companies may not even allow them because of the risks. Keep personal and work thumb drives separate.
- Do not use personal USB thumb drives on public computers like at work, a coffee shop, airport, hotel or library.
- Buy your own USB thumb drives. If you can, select one with hardware encryption. Encryption offers additional protection against firmware-based attacks like BadUSB. Malware can still be picked up on them, however.
- Run a firewall and update your virus detection software. Firewalls protect your computer from outside malicious or unnecessary traffic. Combine the firewall with anti-virus protection to also protect against malware. Avoid free online software that offers protection. There may be hidden viruses waiting to infiltrate your system.
- Disable the AutoRun feature of the USB thumb drive. When you disable AutoRun, you block programs from automatically downloading without you opting to.
In summary, thumb drives can be a dangerous, contagious ways to communicate electronically. If you use them, practice precautions. Do not mix and match them between home and public computers as this increases the risk of malware infection, and add in a firewall and anti-virus software to increase your protection. And for all of your network security needs, contact CMIT Solutions of Centreville. We’re here to worry about your IT concerns so you don’t have to.
CMIT Solutions of Northern Virginia provides a strategic approach to IT consulting that improves performance of your business technology in the most cost-effective way possible. Assisting businesses in Centreville, Chantilly, Dulles, Gainesville, Manassas and Haymarket, we can help you achieve the fastest return on your technology investment. Call 703-881-7738 today to see how we can help your business stay in business.