In the age of digital technology, there is still one device that has lived on much longer than expected, the USB drive. It is by far the most convenient way to carry around your data and information, without having to hassle with the cloud or connectivity. Most likely because of this, a new study has found that over 50% of people will pick up and use random USB drives they find lying around. While some of you may not think this is a big deal, others of us know that this may be inviting viruses and malware disguised as harmless looking files. The research was conducted by a team at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign who dropped about 300 thumb drives across their university campus.
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In order to track who actually used the storage devices the team hid HTML documents on the drives disguised as “Math Notes” and other various names, according to Science Alert. When someone opened the files on an internet connected computer, the team was notified. The study relayed back that about 50% of the drives were opened, but this number is most likely higher due to the possibility of the host computer not being connected to the internet or the user not opening the files on the drive. Along with embedding HTML documents in the devices, the team also tracked how many drives were moved from the place which they were dropped. A staggering 98% of all of the USB drives were picked up and moved, showing that everyone wants to get their hands on a free thumb drive.
This study opens the door to a greater discussion of cyber awareness and computer safety. Many of us store personal documents or even have our credit card information stored on our computers with very little security measures. You wouldn’t download something you knew could contain a virus would you? Then you may want to consider not plugging in that thumb drive you found laying around.
The research team later touched base with some of the people who picked up the drives, and over two thirds of them admitted that they had not taken any precautionary measures to protect themselves against potentially malicious software. Many of the respondents even said that they trusted their Macbooks to protect them against viruses (do not do this). With the price of computers being so cheap nowadays, many people may think that if their computer gets infected, they will simply go out and get another. While this is technically feasible, this gives no concern to the personal information stored on such hardware. People need to become aware that there are persons and organizations out there that want to gain access to your computer, and all it may take is plugging in that lost USB drive.
So where does that leave the “good samaritans” that were simply trying to return the drives to their original owners? While they were likely doing a good deed, hackers and malicious people often play off of the good nature of others. The best path to take if you find a USB drive, is to either turn it in to a building’s lost and found, post a found sign, or simply leave it be. Don’t let your good heart get the best of you and end up having your identity stolen. If you want to read more about this study, it can be found here and will be presented next month in an IEEE symposium.