USB: It Isn’t As Secure As You Think

Let me begin this article by saying how fantastic the USB stick has been as a removable storage media over the years. The idea of using floppy disks and CD’s as an alternative almost feels like going back to the stone age! However, we’ve come to rely on USB storage options to an extreme degree, and we’re not taking the right precautions. In one swift move, it’s easy for masses of data to be lost and systems to be corrupted. No, USB (in particular, USB storage) isn’t as secure a format as you might think, and here’s why.

Most of us relate the idea of the USB format in regards to USB sticks. These mini devices give us a way of storing portable data, and they have proved incredibly useful over the years. Unfortunately, their compact and plug-and-play nature have left us taking them somewhat for granted. You’ve undoubtedly come across the “safe ejection” warning before, but many of us simply ignore it. But, we’re not going to focus on a minor concern like that today. Instead, let’s look at the most dangerous aspects of USB safety.

On its own, a USB stick appears to be a safe form of removable media. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case. And here’s why – you’ll be using it on a variety of devices. Let’s say you buy a USB stick tomorrow. You might plug it into your laptop, followed by your PC, followed by a work computer. Heck, you might even let a friend borrow it for a while to copy the latest video game onto their device. Now, let’s say that just one of those devices is infected with a dangerous virus that can attack your USB stick. Now, you’re in trouble.

From here, the dangers are plentiful. The virus might be at risk of corrupting your USB stick’s data, which is devastating from your point of view. However, the damage might not be done. Now, your USB stick is infected, and every time you insert it into another device, you’re putting that device at risk of infection also. Suddenly, you’re creating a ripple effect, where systems can be destroyed (and hacked), and USB ports can be fried. That’s all it takes, and it isn’t limited to USB sticks – hard drives are another common danger.

So, USB isn’t as secure as it appears on the surface, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore it altogether. Despite the emergence of new technologies such as the cloud, USB still has its place. It’s a very convenient method of storage and connectivity, but we need to start treating it with more care. How do you do that? I’m glad you asked.

If you’re operating in a business environment, the first thing you’re going to want to do is to educate yourself. Understand the dangers of USB storage, and make sure this is communicated around the company. Invest in a computer support company that your USB devices are protected. They’ll be equipped with pieces of kit like a USB protocol analyzer that can monitor USB bus activity. This will help to indicate any operational issues with USB on a device-by-device basis. They’ll also recommend high-quality antivirus software that can protect against USB viruses.

Of course, software and hardware devices can only do so much when it comes to protection. It’s also your responsibility to ensure that USB sticks remain on your person at all times. This is a bigger issue than you might suspect. One survey mentioned that “45% of respondents say that employee negligence is the biggest threat for data safety and security.” This isn’t anything new, and with a quick Google search, you’ll find all sorts of relatable stories.

And while you could argue that methods like USB encryption will prevent data hacking to an extent, they aren’t fully hack-proof. The best way to ensure that USB data loss doesn’t become a major issue is to simply keep a watchful eye on those sticks and hard drives. Alternatively, the cloud is now providing us with alternate ways to store our most valuable information. If you have to carry a USB stick with you, you’re putting your business at risk by carrying important data.

We don’t want to scare you off, though. USB is still majorly relevant in 2016, and we’ll continue to use it for all sorts of important tasks. However, it’s important to understand that we’re not taking it as seriously as we should. Despite its friendly nature, USB can pose all sorts of security risks as we’ve mentioned. It’s time to acknowledge them.

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Ive been blogging now for 5 years on various sites for the love of knowledge share. I decided to start my own blog a few years back to share everything from tech to business news. Follow me on twitter for more.