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USB Security Problems and Solutions

USB Security Problems and Solutions

With over 3 billion USB devices shipped a year (a large proportion of them USB flash drives), there is no doubt that the majority of us are familiar with this technology.

Indeed, with USB flash drives in particular, most if not all of us have owned one or many in the past.

With how often we all mindlessly insert our flash drives into computers, you would think that these nifty little devices are immune to security breaches. The truth of the matter however is that all USB products, including flash drives, are vulnerable to several incredibly destructive forms of malware.

To understand why they are vulnerable, you first need to understand that all USB devices include a firmware chip, which controls its basic bare-bones functions.

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Think of firmware as being akin to your brain stem, in that it unconsciously regulates some basic (but vital) functions in USB devices, like how they communicate with computers.

Why is this significant? Well, one form of malware, dubbed “BadUSB,” infects USB products by latching onto their firmware. But that’s not all you have to look out for. “USBdriveby” remotely attacks your computer’s USB ports, and is equally difficult to detect.

1. BadUSB

What is BadUSB and how does it work? As I hinted at above, BadUSB is a kind of malware that basically exists within the code of a USB device’s firmware.

When you plug in a USB device infected with BadUSB, the malware has the capability to “completely take over a PC, invisibly alter files installed from the memory stick, [and] even redirect [your] internet traffic.”

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BadUSB and malware like it are dangerous because they’re incredibly hard to defend against. Standard virus and malware scanners won’t detect them, because they are unable to check a device’s firmware.

The only way to really know if a USB device has BadUSB would be to analyze its firmware code line by line and see where the malware was inserted. Obviously, that’s no small task for the average user or even most experts.

2. USBdriveby

If BadUSB doesn’t scare you, then USBdriveby might. USBdriveby is essentially a remote that interacts with your computer’s USB ports, gains access, and proceeds to wreak havoc.

Like BadUSB, USBdriveby takes advantage of the inherent flaws within USB protocols. What it does first is pretend it’s a USB mouse or keyboard. Then, it shuts down your computer’s security, opens up a backdoor so that a hacker can later gain access, and exits your system without leaving a trace.

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Unless you’re really good at rummaging through your computer’s operating system, you won’t find the backdoor until it’s too late.

3. Solutions

Can USBdriveby be stopped? Not really, since the problem lies in USB architecture itself, meaning you’d need to strip your devices of USB ports to keep them completely safe.

All you can really do to stop something like USBdriveby is to keep your electronics away from anything resembling the remote/microcontroller device pictured here.

What about something like BadUSB? Can anything be done about that? Well, again, not really, but you can take steps to defend yourself. Basically, you just need to be more cautious when you’re using USB devices.

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For instance, don’t plug your flash drive into a suspicious computer, and don’t plug a suspicious flash drive into your computer.

Yes, in some sense, researchers are asking that we treat USB devices like “hypodermic needles.”

Beyond getting us to be more wary around USB products, researchers are making an effort to get companies and USB manufacturers to acknowledge that these kinds of malware are a major issue. They hope this will lead to changes not only in the way we use these devices, but in the way they are designed.

It was only a matter of time before people started to try and take advantage of an ubiquitous technology like USB. Might it be time to move on to other, more secure forms of data distribution? With the rise of cloud services like Dropbox, perhaps (though these have their own issues).

Still, I don’t think we’ll be giving up USB any time soon, if only for the sake of convenience. Let’s hope that somebody develops a fix that removes the enormous vulnerabilities inherent to the USB architecture, else we could all be facing malware-related problems in the future.

Featured photo credit: Custom USB Pencil/ Custom USB via flickr.com

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Published on January 18, 2019

Best 5 Language Learning Apps to Easily Master a New Language

Best 5 Language Learning Apps to Easily Master a New Language

Learning a new language is no easy feat. While a language instructor is irreplaceable, language learning apps have come to revolutionize a lot of things and it has made language learning much easier. Compared to language learning websites, apps offer a more interactive experience to learn a new language.

The following language learning apps are the top recommended apps for your language learning needs:

1. Duolingo

    Duolingo is a very successful app that merged gamification and language learning. According to Expanded Ramblings, the app now counts with 300 million users.

    Duolingo offers a unique concept, an easy-to-use app and is a great app to accompany your language acquisition journey. The courses are created by native speakers, so this is not data or algorithm-based.

    The app is free and has the upgrade options with Duolingo Plus for $9.99, which are add free lessons. The mobile app offers 25 languages and is popular for English-speaking learners learning other languages.

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    Download the app

    2. HelloTalk

      HelloTalk aims to facilitate speaking practice and eliminate the stresses of a real-time and life conversation. The app allows users to connect to native speakers and has a WhatsApp like chat that imitates its interface.

      There is a perk to this app. The same native speakers available also want to make an even exchange and learn your target language, so engagement is the name of the game.

      What’s more, the app has integrated translation function that bypasses the difficulties of sending a message with a missing word and instead fills in the gap.

      Download the app

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      3. Mindsnacks

        Remember that Duolingo has integrated gamification in language learning? Well, Mindsnacks takes the concept to another level. There is an extensive list of languages available within the app comes with eight to nine games designed to learn grammar, vocabulary listening.

        You will also be able to visualize your progress since the app integrates monitoring capabilities. The layout and interface is nothing short of enjoyable, cheerful and charming.

        Download the app

        4. Busuu

          Bussu is a social language learning app. It is available on the web, Android, and iOS. It currently supports 12 languages and is free.

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          The functionality allows users to learn words, simple dialogues and questions related to the conversations. In addition, the dialogues are recorded by native speakers, which brings you close to the language learning experience.

          When you upgrade, you unlock important features including course materials. The subscription is $17 a month.

          Download the app

          5. Babbel

            Babbel is a subscription-based service founded in 2008. According to LinguaLift, it is a paid cousing of Duolingo. The free version comes with 40 classes, and does not require you to invest any money.

            Each of the classes starts with with a sequential teaching of vocabulary with the help of pictures. The courses are tailor made and adapted to the students’ level, allowing the learning to be adjusted accordingly.

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            If you started learning a language and stopped, Babbel will help you pick up where you started.

            Download the app

            Takeaways

            All the apps recommended are tailored for different needs, whether you’re beginning to learn a language or trying to pick back up one. All of them are designed by real-life native speakers and so provide you with a more concrete learning experience.

            Since these apps are designed to adapt to different kinds of learning styles, do check out which one is the most suitable for you.

            Featured photo credit: Yura Fresh via unsplash.com

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