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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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Last Updated on February 15, 2019

7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

7 Tools to Help Keep Track of Goals and Habits Effectively

Now that 2011 is well underway and most people have fallen off the bandwagon when it comes to their New Year’s resolutions (myself included), it’s a good time to step back and take an honest look at our habits and the goals that we want to achieve.

Something that I have learned over the past few years is that if you track something, be it your eating habits, exercise, writing time, work time, etc. you become aware of the reality of the situation. This is why most diet gurus tell you to track what you eat for a week so you have an awareness of the of how you really eat before you start your diet and exercise regimen.

Tracking daily habits and progress towards goals is another way to see reality and create a way for you clearly review what you have accomplished over a set period of time. Tracking helps motivate you too; if I can make a change in my life and do it once a day for a period of time it makes me more apt to keep doing it.

So, if you have some goals and habits in mind that need tracked, all you need is a tracking tool. Today we’ll look at 7 different tools to help you keep track of your habits and goals.

Joe’s Goals

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    Joe’s Goals is a web-based tool that allows users to track their habits and goals in an easy to use interface. Users can add as many goals/habits as they want and also check multiple times per day for those “extra productive days”. Something that is unique about Joe’s Goals is the way that you can keep track of negative habits such as eating out, smoking, etc. This can help you visualize the good things that you are doing as well as the negative things that you are doing in your life.

    Joe’s Goals is free with a subscription version giving you no ads and the “latest version” for $12 a year.

    Daytum

      Daytum

      is an in depth way of counting things that you do during the day and then presenting them to you in many different reports and groups. With Daytum you can add several different items to different custom categories such as work, school, home, etc. to keep track of your habits in each focus area of your life.

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      Daytum is extremely in depth and there are a ton of settings for users to tweak. There is a free version that is pretty standard, but if you want more features and unlimited items and categories you’ll need Daytum Plus which is $4 a month.

      Excel or Numbers

        If you are the spreadsheet number cruncher type and the thought of using someone else’s idea of how you should track your habits turns you off, then creating your own Excel/Numbers/Google spreadsheet is the way to go. Not only do you have pretty much limitless ways to view, enter, and manipulate your goal and habit data, but you have complete control over your stuff and can make it private.

        What’s nice about spreadsheets is you can create reports and can customize your views in any way you see fit. Also, by using Dropbox, you can keep your tracker sheets anywhere you have a connection.

        Evernote

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          I must admit, I am an Evernote junky, mostly because this tool is so ubiquitous. There are several ways you can implement habit/goal tracking with Evernote. You won’t be able to get nifty reports and graphs and such, but you will be able to access your goal tracking anywhere your are, be it iPhone, Android, Mac, PC, or web. With Evernote you pretty much have no excuse for not entering your daily habit and goal information as it is available anywhere.

          Evernote is free with a premium version available.

          Access or Bento

            If you like the idea of creating your own tracker via Excel or Numbers, you may be compelled to get even more creative with database tools like Access for Windows or Bento for Mac. These tools allow you to set up relational databases and even give you the option of setting up custom interfaces to interact with your data. Access is pretty powerful for personal database applications, and using it with other MS products, you can come up with some pretty awesome, in depth analysis and tracking of your habits and goals.

            Bento is extremely powerful and user friendly. Also with Bento you can get the iPhone and iPad app to keep your data anywhere you go.

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            You can check out Access and the Office Suite here and Bento here.

            Analog Bonus: Pen and Paper

            All these digital tools are pretty nifty and have all sorts of bells and whistles, but there are some people out there that still swear by a notebook and pen. Just like using spreadsheets or personal databases, pen and paper gives you ultimate freedom and control when it comes to your set up. It also doesn’t lock you into anyone else’s idea of just how you should track your habits.

            Conclusion

            I can’t necessarily recommend which tool is the best for tracking your personal habits and goals, as all of them have their quirks. What I can do however (yes, it’s a bit of a cop-out) is tell you that the tool to use is whatever works best for you. I personally keep track of my daily habits and personal goals with a combo Evernote for input and then a Google spreadsheet for long-term tracking.

            What this all comes down to is not how or what tool you use, but finding what you are comfortable with and then getting busy with creating lasting habits and accomplishing short- and long-term goals.

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