USB Attack

USB Attacks cyber security

In an age dominated by digital transformation, organizations must secure themselves against a myriad of cybersecurity threats. Yet, one of the most covert and neglected dangers – USB cyber attacks in the form of unnoticeable USB devices. USB attacks involve exploiting vulnerabilities in USB devices or the USB protocol to compromise computer systems cybersecurity and gain unauthorized access. USB attack tools have evolved significantly in sophistication and stealth. They pose significant cybersecurity risks to both data integrity and operational continuity. The requirement for comprehensive USB cyber security solutions has never been more essential.

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 USB cybersecurity gaps when dealing with spoofing USB attack tools.

What are USB Attacks?

These bad devices, often referred to as Bad USB devices, appear in different forms. 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 setups.

A notorious exemplar of this threat is the USB Rubber Ducky. This human interface device scripting attack tool, impersonating as a legitimate keyboard, by spoofing its VID (Vendor ID), PID (Product ID) and ClassIDs. Despite its safe name, it can be programmed to execute cyber attacks. Its ability to mimic a keyboard allows it to bypass many security measures that would normally prevent unauthorized access. By exploiting this capability, an attacker could execute a wide range of malicious activities. From installing malware to stealing sensitive data or even taking control of the entire system. This underscores the importance of practicing good cybersecurity hygiene and being cautious when plugging in unknown or untrusted USB devices. If you find a USB device lying around or someone offers you one, think twice before plugging it in.

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 Cybersecurity

Bad USB attacks involve manipulating the firmware of USB devices to mimic legitimate ones while carrying out malicious activities such as data theft, malware injection, or system compromise. These attacks can be particularly challenging to detect because malicious behavior often appears as legitimate device activity.

Regrettably, most existing cybersecurity 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 started by bad USBs. 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 tools (Bad USB) being connected or disconnected from host systems. This is a cybersecurity risk than leaves organizations vulnerable to USB attacks.

A automatic security 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 adoption of USB-C power supplies in modern computer devices, merely sealing off USB ports doesn’t protect systems from cybersecurity 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 functions can accidentally disrupt organizational processes by rendering genuine peripherals like keyboards or mice nonfunctional. This is especially true in hybrid environments. Where employees are working from home, using their own, available, USB peripherals (Work From Home Cyber 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 security threats while still authorizing legitimate and essential USB functionality to avoid functional interruption.

USB Cyber Security

Sepio’s platform emerges as the beacon in this challenging cybersecurity 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 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
USB Attack Detection and Risk Indicator Alarm

How to Protect your Organization from USB Attacks

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

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

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October 5th, 2023