Are thumb drives a real cyber threat?

Are stories of cyber attacks via malicious thumb drives for real, or some sort of scary urban legend?

07/20/2012


Dear Control Engineering: I was reading about cyber criminals trying to gain access to industrial systems by leaving USB thumb drives loaded with malware around the parking lot. Come now, does that sort of thing really happen, or is that a scary bedtime story?

In a word, yes, it does indeed happen. This is one social engineering attack vector that has been used because people are often more curious than they are cautious. By the time you know what’s on the thumb drive, it’s too late. This kind of attack vector can be very effective. It is particularly useful for networks that have strong perimeter defenses or are effectively isolated. Remember Stuxnet? Matt Luallen compares this to finding a syringe lying on the ground and injecting yourself with whatever is in it or taking candy from strangers. Most people are too smart to do that, we hope.

There was a recent report of an incident at a chemical plant in the Netherlands where this very thing happened. Alas, for the hackers, it was a defeat. In a victory for good security training, the individuals who found the suspect drives took them to their IT people rather than plugging them into the control system. They were indeed loaded with malware, specifically a keylogger that captures passwords and sends them to the hackers.

Chalk one up for the good guys.

Peter Welander, pwelander@cfemedia.com



No comments
The Engineers' Choice Awards highlight some of the best new control, instrumentation and automation products as chosen by...
The System Integrator Giants program lists the top 100 system integrators among companies listed in CFE Media's Global System Integrator Database.
The Engineering Leaders Under 40 program identifies and gives recognition to young engineers who...
This eGuide illustrates solutions, applications and benefits of machine vision systems.
Learn how to increase device reliability in harsh environments and decrease unplanned system downtime.
This eGuide contains a series of articles and videos that considers theoretical and practical; immediate needs and a look into the future.
Save energy with automation; Process control system upgrades; Dispelling controll myths; Time-sensitive networking; Control system integration; Road to IANA
Additive manufacturing advancements; Machine vision enhances robotics; Fieldbus evolution; Process safety; Advice from System Integrators of the Year; Road to IANA
Salary and career survey: Benchmarks and advice; Designing controls; Remote data collection, historians; Control valve advances; Hannover Messe; Control Engineering International
This article collection contains several articles on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and how it is transforming manufacturing.

Find and connect with the most suitable service provider for your unique application. Start searching the Global System Integrator Database Now!

The digital oilfield: Utilizing Big Data can yield big savings; Virtualization a real solution; Tracking SIS performance
Getting to the bottom of subsea repairs: Older pipelines need more attention, and operators need a repair strategy; OTC preview; Offshore production difficult - and crucial
Digital oilfields: Integrated HMI/SCADA systems enable smarter data acquisition; Real-world impact of simulation; Electric actuator technology prospers in production fields
click me