Free USBs delivered to your letterbox – whether you ordered them or not

Earlier this week, Victoria Police issued a warning notice urging residents in the Melbourne suburb of Pakenham to be wary of corrupt USB flash drives being left in their letterboxes. Victims have experienced fraudulent media streaming service offers, as well as other serious issues, upon inserting the USB drives into their computers.

Victoria Police received reports of residents finding these unmarked flash drives containing malware in their letterboxes. The USB drives are believed to be extremely harmful, but there is no further information on the type of malware contained in them, or whether victims were asked to pay a ransom as a result of executing the malicious code.

The warning post by Victoria Police urged members of the public to stop plugging the flash drives into their computers and instead, contact Crime Stoppers if they have any information about those behind the scam.


New threats

Just last month,, a Hong Kong based company, started selling an innocuous looking USB drive that has the ability to destroy almost any hardware that it is plugged into including laptops, PCs and televisions. The device costs about 49.95 EUR ($74) and is commercially available for purchase on the company website.

The company claims that over 95% of devices that the USB Kill 2.0 is plugged into will be damaged permanently or completely destroyed by the power surge attacks introduced via the USB port. USB Kill 2.0 works by collecting voltage from the USB port power lines and storing it until it reaches -240V. It then discharges over the machine’s data lines. This charge / discharge cycle is very rapid and occurs multiple times per second. The rapid discharge continues while the USB is plugged in and permanently disables unprotected hardware.

The demonstration video below shows the USB Kill 2.0 in action. 

Although the USB Killer is being marketed as a testing device to test USB ports against power surges, the potential for abuse is obvious. It is a handy tool for vandals and pranksters looking to destroy equipment, and has potential for more sinister uses.

There are numerous studies that have repeatedly confirmed that a majority of people who find a USB drive of unknown provenance would not only plug it into their PCs, but would also open files and click on unfamiliar links.


The weakest link

In a 2016 study, a group of researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan and Google, tracked the fate of 297 USB drives that they dropped on campus. It was found that nearly 50 percent of people will plug a USB drive they have found on the ground into their computer.

Closer home, a Western Australian security exercise, which saw USB sticks left in public places with software on them to phone home when used, found that eight of fifteen agencies failed the test. The USB sticks did not contain auto-executing malware but instead relied on the individual to pick up the device and consciously make the decision to open it and click on its contents.

These studies lend credence to the notion that people are often the weakest links of any organisation’s security solution, becoming easy targets for social engineering attacks due to a lack of awareness and relevant training.


Social engineering

Social engineering is one of the most prolific and effective means of gaining access to secure systems and obtaining sensitive information. In most cases, the victims are not even aware that they are being exploited or that their actions are harmful. Social engineering comes in many forms. Attacks can vary from bulk phishing emails of little sophistication through to highly targeted, multi-layered attacks which use a range of techniques.

While the obvious victim may seem to be the end user, quite often the actual targets are organisations and their confidential data. Increasingly, companies are finding themselves at risk of data breaches due to the behaviour and actions of their least trained employees. Mitigating the threat of social engineering requires a holistic approach to security involving technology, people and process.

Technical solutions such as spam filters, anti-virus software and blocking known phishing or baiting websites can help prevent some phishing attacks. To some extent blocking the use of unauthorised USB devices and disabling CD / DVD drives can do the same for baiting attacks.

However, technical solutions to guard against social engineering attacks only go so far. This is a form of cybercrime that exploits weakness in people, rather than those found in technology. The effectiveness of these scams depend on the criminal’s ability to prey upon normal human behavioural traits such as trust, curiosity or apathy. The best defence therefore is to raise user awareness of potential threats and educate them on the techniques used and what to look out for.

Organisations can further strengthen their security posture by developing an attitude towards security that promotes the sharing of concerns, enforces information security rules and rewards users for adhering to them.


If you would like to learn more about how you can defend your organisation against social engineering attacks, or if you would like staff training on identifying and protecting from such attacks, contact the blueAPACHE account team.



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