USB Cables – From friend to foe

Everyone who’s into computers surely are familiar with Universal Serial Bus or more popularly known as USB. Almost all peripherals uses USB to establish communication between USB devices and a host controller like PCs and notebooks both for Windows and Macs.

USB can connect computer peripherals such as mouse, keyboards, digital cameras, printers, media players, flash drives, Network Adapters, and external hard drives. For many of those devices, USB has become the standard connection method. So can a USB device do any harm to your computer?

At the recent Black Hat DC conference, teacher and student team Angelos Stavrou and Zhaohui Wang from George Mason University presented how an Android phone can be used to mount as a standard human input device (HID) when plugged into a Windows, OS X or Linux computer, potentially giving keyboard and mouse access to malware or even a remote hacker.

How does it work? Stavrou and Wang gave this explanation “Say your computer at home is compromised and you compromise your Android phone by connecting them. Then, whenever you connect the smartphone to another laptop or computing device that the hacker can take over that computer also, and then compromise other computers off that Android. It’s a viral type of compromise using the USB cable.”

The bigger worry is anti-virus application will not be able to detect the problem because the process would appear to be a normal keyboard or mouse activity. Once installed, the malware author could then retrieve files, download other malware or even take control of the system altogether.

Think of the effect – if you insert a compromised Android phone via USB. Tthe computer will be affected by the malware it would then automatically contaminate any clean mobile device connected to it making the malware a viral problem. How often do you connect a USB device to our computers? As I am typing this story, I have a couple of USB devices currently connected to my computer.

So the next time someone asked you if they can attach their mobile phone to your computer via USB, think it over again. Who knows – you may be the next victim of the USB threat. As a general rule, you do not allow anyone you don’t know, even friends to attached their mobile phones and USB devices into you computer – unless of course if its your mom, dad and bosses.

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