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Why USB Devices May Be Putting You At Risk

The very nature of USB devices sets them up to be a security risk for some users. The sheer convenience and accessibility of USB devices, along with the frequency of being passed from user to user, has tagged these devices as the culprits in many security breaches in the pass. However, more recently, some hard hitting research is bringing to light some more significant security issues which USB devices pose to users.

Security researchers Karston Nohl and Jackob Lell have recently brought to the public’s attention proof of concept software which demonstrates how the security levels of USB devices is broken in a very fundamental way. The malicious software created by Nohl and Lell which they have dubbed, “BadUSB” can easily be placed on to a USB device. In initial tests it is proven that this malware can completely take over personal computers. Other symptoms of the virus include invisibly altering files that have been installed using the memory stick, as well as completely redirecting an individual’s traffic on the internet.

The malware created by Lell and Nohl resides in the firmware that controls functions on USB devices, making it harder to track than a virus that can be found in the flash memory storage. In other words, USB devices provide better hiding places for malware than other types of storage devices. Lell and Nohl also note that these types of viruses which can hide in the firmware of a USB have no easy fix available.

What Lell and Nohl are not offering is a solution. In fact the level of security issues which their malware demonstrations are bringing to surface could only be addressed by the possible banning of such USB devices. The reason that there are no easy answers to this problem is because the USB security issues are based in the very design of the device itself. As Nohl puts it, “We are exploiting the very way that USB is designed.”

Although that is not encouraging news considering the billions of USB devices floating among users on the planet, USB designers are taking to heart the gravity of the issue as it is a real concern among users who wish to access convenient, secure storage for their digital information.

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