USB Attacks

USB Attacks cyber security

In an age dominated by digital transformation, organizations must secure themselves against a myriad of threats. Yet, one of the most covert and neglected dangers – USB attacks in the form of unnoticeable USB devices. USB attacks involve exploiting vulnerabilities in USB devices or the USB protocol to compromise computer systems cyber security and gain unauthorized access.

USB attack tools, which have evolved significantly in sophistication and stealth, pose significant cyber security risks to both data integrity and operational continuity.

Some of our customers have been lucky enough to encounter them only in their recent penetration testing (PT) activities. Where they were used to demonstrate existing security gaps when dealing with spoofing USB attack tools.

Understanding USB Attack Tools

These malevolent devices, often referred to as BadUSB Devices attacks, manifest in various avatars. From seemingly benign USB dongles to connectors embedded within a computer’s USB-C power supply. Or even stealthily integrated into docking stations, providing remote keylogging, harvesting a user’s login credentials. Their hostile capabilities are diverse and far-reaching. Beyond merely presenting malware, without user privilege elevation, they can siphon off sensitive data. Execute secret extractions, manipulate files and setup.

A notorious exemplar of this threat is the Rubber Ducky, HID scripting attack tool, impersonating as a legitimate keyboard, by spoofing its VID, PID and ClassIDs, which, despite its innocuous name, can wreak havoc within a digital infrastructure.

USB attack tool impersonating as a legitimate Microsoft mouse
USB attack tool impersonating as a legitimate Microsoft mouse
USB attack tool impersonating as a legitimate power bank pen

The Shortcomings of Contemporary Defense Mechanisms

Regrettably, most existing cyber security mechanisms lack sufficient capabilities to effectively counter these subversive hardware attacks. Endpoint Detection and Response (EDR) solutions, while advanced, primarily focus on discovering and responding to payload attacks initiated by these devices. While successfully handling, legitimate USB devices – thumb drives, USB cameras and mobile phones, they consistently fail to monitor the subtle events of these spoofing USB (Bad USB) tools being connected or disconnected from host systems. This leaves organizations vulnerable to USB attacks.

A automatic measure, adopted by many organizations, is the blanket disabling of all USB ports. Yet, this strategy is fraught with weaknesses:

Ubiquity of USB-C

With the pervasive adoption of USB-C power supplies in modern computing devices, merely sealing off USB ports doesn’t inoculate systems from threats.

The widespread adoption of USB-C connectors for various functions, including power supplies, makes it impractical to completely seal off USB ports. Many modern devices use USB-C ports not just for data transfer but also for charging and various peripherals. Disabling USB ports entirely would disrupt the normal operation of these devices.

Operational Disruption

The act of blocking USB functionalities can accidentally disrupt organizational processes by rendering genuine peripherals like keyboards or mice nonfunctional. This is especially true in hybrid environment, where employees are working from home, using their own, available, USB peripherals (Remote Work Security).

Overall, these flaws highlight the need for more comprehensive and nuanced approaches to cybersecurity. Organizations should consider a combination of strategies that protect against USB-based threats while still authorizing legitimate and essential USB functionality to avoid functional interruption.

Sepio’s Vanguard Approach to USB Attacks and Hardware Security

Sepio’s platform emerges as the beacon in this challenging landscape. It distinguishes itself by carrying out a holistic, programmatic hardware security audit of an organization’s complete hardware ecosystem. This is not limited to merely scanning peripheral connections.

Sepio delves deeper, inspecting the intrinsic Hardware Bill of Material (HBOM) components.
This involves identifying the physical profile of every hardware device during its connection event at the physical layer. This capability enables Sepio to discover and profile every peripheral device. Including identifying and discovering the USB devices that are attack tools or embedded within legit USB devices.

Sepio’s USB Attack Detection and Risk Indicator Alarm
Sepio’s USB Attack Detection and Risk Indicator Alarm


With cyber threats, specially USB attacks, becoming increasingly nuanced and sneaky, the requirement for advanced, comprehensive solutions has never been more essential.

Sepio leads in ensuring that IT, OT, IoT, and peripheral infrastructures not only receive protecting but also exhibit resilience against the developing world of USB-based threats. This comprehensive approach is vital for organizations seeking to protect their hardware and data against increasingly nuanced and dangerous cyber threats.

See every known and shadow asset. Prioritize and mitigate risks.
Talk to an expert. It will help you understand how to use Sepio’s patented technology to gain control of your asset risks.

October 5th, 2023