Sharing information is what made the internet such an important tool in our everyday lives. But the internet wasn’t the only sharing tool we have at our disposal. Remember the USB flash drive? Of course you do. One of your friends has given you a USB with some music that they wanted you to listen to or your family dinner photos that your uncle gave you to print out. USBs contributed to a huge amount of data sharing that took place in the early days and all the way up to today. It is true that they have lost the spotlight that they once had with increasing internet speeds and smart phones with cloud storages. But they still bring us the good and the bad. USB drives are a gateway to malware and viruses that can completely annihilate computer systems. Hackers have written tons of malware scripts that just sit dormant on USB drives waiting to be connected to a computer that they can infect and terrorize. Today, I will be talking about how to protect yourself from such attacks and secure your own USB devices.
USB drives are primarily formatted in Fat32 file system. This facilitates the usage and data transfer between different operating systems such as Linux, MacOS and Windows. Now let’s make things clear, the more options or the more different environments you use your USB on the harder to secure it. Let’s assume you are mostly using your USB on Windows platform computers. Then you can take advantage of what Windows NTFS file system has to offer in terms of USB drive security.
Let’s start with the following:
- Insert your USB drive and click to format.
- Under “File System” choose “NTFS”.
- Click “Start” to format.
- Next, navigate to “My Computer” and find the USB drive.
- Right click and open “Properties”, next “Security tab and change everyone’s permission to “Read-Only”.
This way, no one but you is able to changed files or delete anything. This is a very simple way to keep your USB drive safe from any backdoor attacks on your system.
You might not know what this is but you most certainly have seen it. Whenever you insert a USB or CD disk, a small window pops up asking you what to do, whether its to open up the contents or launch the program directly. This is called autorun. Hackers like to implement viruses into your USB drive that infect your computer once connected through autorun. It is the most common attack but it is also very easy to defend against. One way to do so it to disable the autorun feature from Windows Registry.
- Press “Windows Key + R” to open Run.
- Type in
- You must find a specific key that disables this feature for all users:
- Click to create a new hex value called “NoDriveTypeAutoRun”.
- Assign a value of 4 to the new hex value created.
- Open up task manager by pressing “Shift + Tab + Esc”.
- Find “Windows Explorer” and disable it to restart and activate the new key.
This was a very short guide on how to quickly secure your USB drives and your Windows system. Now this is of course not enough to avoid other type of clever attacks but there are tools that can help you take care of such problems. To benefit as much as possible and setup a strong defense, make sure you have most of the items on the checklist installed/available:
- Updated Windows system.
- Good anti-virus program (Kaspersky or Avira).
- Hard drive encryption is on.
- Write/read permissions are properly configured.
- Common sense in knowing what to open and what not.
I hope this guide reminded you what risks you carry but not practicing safe USB protocols. Sharing information is a huge milestone for humanity but with great powers come great responsibilities.