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Beware the abandoned USB sticks

14th September 2017 | News | charlie@media-street.co.uk

beware the abandoned USB sticks

In a recent article, Flash UK found that over 22,000 USB sticks were lost at UK dry cleaners in 2015. But did you also know that almost half the people who pick up a lost flash drive that they come across in a car park admitted to plugging the device into their computers or laptops? Here, we take a look at the dangers of plugging in abandoned USB sticks. 

A study was conducted by researchers at Google, the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign and the University of Michigan, who placed 297 USB flash drives around the Urbana-Champaign campus. Results concluded that 48 percent of abandoned drives were picked up and plugged into a computer – some within minutes of being placed.

A previous study has also revealed that 50-75 percent of lost or old USB sticks are likely to be picked up and used by those who find them on the floor in passing.

A harmful hack trick

While losing a flash drive is obviously very annoying for the owner, plugging in abandoned USB sticks is also potentially harmful to anyone who decides to use the missing device. This is because a new threat is looming…

New, in-depth research carried out by the University of Adelaide indicates that hackers may be using your old or lost USBs to gain access to your confidential data. The practice is known as ‘leakage’ and, when plugging in a USB that is loaded with malicious software, can cause a number of issues.

Hackers may be able to monitor a user’s every digital move and relay it remotely, resulting in sensitive information such as contact information, passwords and login details being stolen and used illegally.

Hacked flash drives have the capacity to detect signals from other devices with ‘crosstalk’ as “most computer wires are connected to a larger circuit, so a signal sent on one wire affects another,” explains Dr Yuval Yarom, a computer scientist at the University of Adelaide.

“Electricity flows like water along pipes – and it can leak out,” he continues. “In our project, we showed that voltage fluctuations of the USB port’s data lines can be monitored from the adjacent ports on the USB hub.”

Hacked off – testing abandoned USB sticks

The team in Adelaide tested hacked USBs of 50 computers and found that 60 percent of them leaked data to other devices.

When applied to real world settings, these signals would most likely be transmitted via Bluetooth or SMS. in some instances, the malware can also affect the PC or laptop from the moment it connects with the device.

The team hopes that flash drives can be redesigned with their project’s findings in mind, to ensure they are more secure. However, for now, they hope their research emphasises the importance of not installing or inserting USB sticks into a computer that could be unsafe.

Contact Flash UK today

At Flash UK, we design, stock and supply brand new custom USBs, and guarantee that our products never come with harmful information. We also provide branded USB sticks, ensuring you can recognise the difference between your flash drive and others should you lose it.

Contact Flash UK today for more information about how our USB products. Call us on 01896 750536 or drop us a line at sales@flashuk.com. You can also fill out our online enquiry form here.