“Though she be but little, she is fierce.”
William Shakespeare may not have been referring to a USB drive when he wrote that, but that doesn’t make it any less applicable to the device today.
USBs serve many purposes. They’re a great tool for sharing, storing, and transferring files and documents. With the help of Predator, they can serve as a computer lock. They can increase computer speed by caching RAM with ReadyBoost. And in the world of TemperatureAlert, they can measure ambient temperature and provide notifications when measurements fall outside of a preset range.
With all the power that a USB drive yields, users on the whole don’t treat them as cautiously as they should. CompTIA, a non-profit trade association for the IT industry, conducted a study in Fall 2015 on employee cyber security and found that nearly 20 percent of users plugged a random USB drive in their computers – one they picked up off the street nonetheless – and opened the files loaded onto the drive.
According to a press release about the experiment, “200 unbranded USB flash drives were left in high-traffic, public locations in Chicago, Cleveland, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. In about one in five instances, the flash drives were picked up and plugged into a device. Users then proceeded to engage in several potentially risky behaviors: opening text files, clicking on unfamiliar web links or sending messages to a listed email address.”
Todd Thibodeaux, president and CEO, CompTIA noted that “these actions may seem innocuous, but each has the potential to open the door to the very real threat of becoming the victim of a hacker or a cybercriminal.”
And it wasn’t just technology novices who were roped into the experiment. The report noted that a number of IT employers and digitally-savvy millennials let their curiosity get the best of them. Forty percent of millennials were likely to pick up a USB stick found in public, as compared to 22 percent of Gen X and nine percent of Baby Boomers.
So why do users on the whole treat USB drives like they’re nonthreatening? Sure they’re small in size but they have the ability to do big things.
There’s an Aesop’s Fable where a scorpion and a frog meet on the bank of a stream and the scorpion asks the frog to carry him across on its back. The frog asks, "How do I know you won't sting me?" The scorpion says, "Because if I do, I will die too." The frog is satisfied, and they set out; midstream, the scorpion stings the frog. The frog feels the onset of paralysis and starts to sink, knowing they both will drown, but has just enough time to gasp "Why?" The scorpion replies: "Its my nature..."
It’s imperative to exercise caution to ensure safety and security at all levels, even with a “harmless” USB drive.
Don’t be the frog.