USB Drives: Great for Spreading Viruses!

USB drives are great for transferring data - and malware.
June 2012
by Robin Wark

The handy USB drive you use to transfer data from one computer to another could be a big security risk.

Devious cybercriminals and malware writers will use any opening to get their malicious spyware, adware, Trojan downloaders and other malware onto your computer. USB drives, also known as flash drives or thumb drives, can be used to utilized to spread malware.

How it spreads

A common way that malware is distributed using USB drives is that someone infects a PC, maybe through a malicious download. When a thumb drive is plugged into that computer, the malware is downloaded onto it. Later, when the drive is plugged into another machine, the malware infects that computer … and so on and so on. It does not take long for a large number of computers to be infected. If people are using drives on both shared work and personal computers, it can spread quite rapidly.

You might have an infected USB drive and not even know it! In late 2011, IDG News Service reported on a study where 50 thumb drives that were lost on trains in the Greater Sydney metro area were purchased in an auction. These were analyzed and 33, 66 per cent, were found to be infected. Some had more than one malicious program on them. The report stated there was not any evidence that the USB sticks had been deliberately planted to spread malware.

Could your USB drive be one of the infected 66%? Run a free scan and find out: Scan Now

Protect your PC

There are some precautions you can take so that your computer is less susceptible to USB threats:

  • Be careful with your use of USB drives. If you find a drive, don't plug it in to see what is on it or who the owner is. It is also a good idea to have separate USB drives for work and home use. Try to use those drives only on either business machines or personal ones.
  • Following PC security guidelines:
    • Use a firewall. This hardware or software blocks unauthorized access to your PC.
    • Have anti-virus or anti-spyware software (such as XoftSpySE Anti-Spyware) installed. Use security software that is frequently updated to protect you against the latest threats. Ensure that this software automatically updates itself or that you do on a regular basis. If you use scanning type software, run scans regularly – daily is best.
    • Keep your Windows operating system and other software up-to-date. Updates often contain security patches to block potential holes malware can exploit.
  • Consider disabling AutoRun and/or AutoPlay When you plug a drive into your PC, something on it could start running by itself due to the AutoPlay and AutoRun. To protect your computer against this, you can disable this functionality.
  • The AutoPlay/AutoRun functionality can be turned off in Windows 7 by:

    • Click "Start" and type "gpedit.msc" into the search box. Click the result to open the gpedit.
    • Click to expand the "Administrative Templates" and then go to "Windows Components".
    • Click on "Autoplay Policies" and then "Turn off Autoplay".
    • Click "Enabled" and then select "All drives".
    • Click "OK".
    • Please note: You often need to restart your computer for this change to take effect.

Steps for Vista and Windows XP are similar. However, how to disable this functionality can vary depending on which edition of the operating system you are running. It is best to check the Microsoft site for instructions for your specific operating system.

Flash drives can be a huge help for transferring files. However, they can also allow dangerous malware to spread. Taking the steps above will help you avoid infection.

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