USB drives have almost become the defacto way of transferring data quickly and safely no matter where you are, but a new exploit will have you thinking twice about sticking a random drive into your computer – or plugging a USB peripheral into your machine.

Called BadUSB, the exploit has been created by white-hat hackers that turns keyboards, webcams or really anything that connects to a PC through USB into an online weapon of mass destruction – and there is absolutely no way of detecting it.

An infected USB connection will reprogram the embedded firmware on the attached peripheral, which will effectively turn it into a slave unit with a new mission – as an example, and exploited keyboard will start to execute malicious commands on the PC that it’s connected to.

Karsten Nohl, chief scientist at Security Research Labs in Berlin, explained that taking the risk to put a USB into your PC is like leaving it logged on and walking away.

“If you put anything into your USB [slot], it extends a lot of trust. Whatever it is, there could always be some code running in that device that runs maliciously. Every time anybody connects a USB device to your computer, you fully trust them with your computer. It’s the equivalent of [saying] ‘here’s my computer; I’m going to walk away for 10 minutes. Please don’t do anything evil,” he told Ars Technica.

“USB has become so commonplace that we rarely worry about its security implications. USB sticks undergo the occasional virus scan, but we consider USB to be otherwise perfectly safe – until now,” Nohl added, as he will be giving a talk on BadUSB later next week.

And there isn’t much that the average user can do to disinfect an exploited USB. According to Ars Technica, “Reformatting an infected USB stick, for example, will do nothing to remove the malicious programming. Because the tampering resides in the firmware, the malware can be eliminated only by replacing the booby-trapped device software with the original firmware.”

Nohl explained that when next you detect a virus on your PC, assume it is the USB to blame.

“The next time you have a virus on your computer, you pretty much have to assume your peripherals are infected, and computers of other people who connected to those peripherals are infected.”

[Source – Ars Technica]
Charlie started his professional life as a motoring journalist for a community newspaper in Mpumalanga, Charlie explored different journalistic angles since his entry into the fast-paced world of publishing in 2006. While fostering a passion for the arts, Charlie developed a love for technology – both which allowed him to serve as Entertainment and Technology Editor for an online publication. Charlie has since been heavily involved in consumer technology for various websites and publications. He thoroughly enjoys World War II films and cerebral documentaries; aviation; photography and indie music. Oh yes, and he also has a rather strange obsession with collecting coffee mugs from his travels.