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USB Drives – With Convenience Comes Risk

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I’m sure most of us have used a USB drive (or thumb drive) at one point or another. They are super convenient to transfer files, especially when they are too large for email or you don’t have access to an Internet connection.

But it’s this same convenience of being portable, readily available, and inexpensive that make them a prime target for cybercriminals. There’s a number of ways that these devices can fall victim to the underworld.

Because USB drives are primarily used to share and transfer files, it’s an easy target for hackers who are looking to distribute malware. And because most USB drives are set to auto-run (meaning that when you plug it into your computer, it will automatically open up the drive), the malicious software could be automatically transferred to your computer as soon as you plug this in. So once they get you to copy an infected file to the USB drive, it’s easily spread to other computers every time the USB drive is plugged in.

While their small size and portability make them easy to carry in your pocket or pretty much anywhere, it also makes them susceptible to loss or theft. Depending on what type of information is stored on here, losing this device could expose your personal information. A USB drive could easily be misplaced, dropped or taken from a table so it’s important to be careful when using these devices.

Another thing to keep in mind is that files aren’t really deleted, even if you hit the “delete” button to take something off your USB drive. In this case “delete” really means “hide” so unless you run a “wipe” program to really get rid of the files, someone could still retrieve your data, so you still need to make sure you are careful with these devices.

So here’s some tips how can you ensure that you stay safe and protect your information when using USB drives:

  • Watch your USB drive – don’t set it down and make sure you keep track of it so it’s not lost or stolen.
  • Disable auto-run – Turn off auto-run on your computer so that if a USB drive has malware, then it won’t automatically be transferred to your machine.
  • Be careful who you share your USB drives with – Be careful what computers you place your USB drive in and who you let borrow your USB drive.
  • Use comprehensive security software – make sure your security software not only scans your computer for threats, but also any drives that are attached.

Remember just as with being online, we need to make sure our conveniences don’t expose us to risk.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked! Disclosures.

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