13 Percent of Malware Attacks Come from USB Devices

PRAGUE, Czech Republic — AVAST Software has detected a growing number of malware attacks targeting the AutoRun function in Windows and plug-in USB devices. Researchers found that, of the 700,000 recorded attacks on computers in the avast! CommunityIQ system during the last week in October, one out of every eight attacks – or 13.5% – came via USB devices.

The key attack point for malware is the ‘AutoRun’ feature in Microsoft Windows operating systems (OS). AutoRun alerts computer users when a new device such as a memory stick is connected and is designed to help them choose what application should run with the new files.

“AutoRun is a really useful tool, but it is also a way to spread more than two-thirds of current malware. The threat of USB-distributed malware is much more widespread than just the Stuxnet attacks on enterprise computers – which were also spread via infected memory sticks,” said Virus Lab analyst Jan Sirmer. “Cyber-criminals are taking advantage of people’s natural inclination to share with their friends and the growing memory capacity of USB devices. Put these two factors together and we have an interesting scenario.”

An infected device – most commonly a memory stick, but potentially any device with a mass-storage capacity such as a PSP, digital camera, some cellular phones and mp3 players – starts an executable file which then invites a wide array of malware into the computer. The incoming malware copies itself into the core of the Windows OS and can replicate itself each time the computer is started.

The low cost of USB memory sticks makes it easy for friends and work colleagues to exchange large media files and creates a convenient target for cyber criminals.

USB safety pointers

  1. Be aware. Around 60% of malware can now be spread via USB devices. This is an under-appreciated threat to home and business computers.
  2. Don’t start attached. Turning on a PC with a USB device attached can result in malware being loaded directly to the computer ahead of some antivirus programs starting up.
  3. Scan first, look second. Make sure you have enabled “on-access auto-scans” in your antivirus program.

Read the press release.

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