A way of spreading malware that only some people may think about is through USB drives. Imagine that, you are walking on the street, and suddenly you find a USB flash drive which looks very new and pretty. Will you pick it up and insert into your PC to see what's inside?

Maybe your answer is yes, because many people will be curious about a seemingly mysterious item. Well, if you do so, then you are stepping into a huge trap!

You all know what a USB drive is, but what you may not realize is that, it can easily be used to launch data attacks against its unsuspecting user, allowing cybercriminals full access to your system. This is why you do not willy nilly plug just any Flash drive you find into your computer system.

To figure out what is USB drop attack, this article will help you in understanding USB drop attack and tell you what to do when your data lost due to the drop attack.

Table of Content
    1. Social Engineering
    2. Malicious Code
    3. Human Interface Device (HID) Spoofing
    4. USB Kill
    1. 2021 Natanz incident
    2. 2008 Malware Infection of the United States Department of Defense
    1. Data Theft
    2. Spreading Within Networks
    3. Sabotage
    4. Hardware Destruction
    1. Use Only Verified and Trusted Devices
    2. Use Reliable Antivirus and Anti-Malware
    3. Regularly Scan Your Device
    4. Turn Off Autoplay on Your Computer
    5. Open USB Devices With Virtualization Software

What Is USB Drop Attack?

USB drop attacks are essentially manipulative ways to get malware onto your computer.

Attackers might place or drop, as the name suggests, USB devices on random locations where many people pass, hoping that someone will pick them up and later plug them into their computer.

usb drop attack

However, dropped USB devices may not be found lying on the ground of a mall or on the table of a coffee shop. Attackers often pose as someone they are not to ensure a specific target takes and uses the USB.

The person may pose as an IT technician or a staff member at your workplace. This way, they can either convince you to use the USB. They might also place it near your workspace, ensuring you pick it up automatically, without deliberation, and plug it into your computer.

Before you know it, the malware spreads through your system and infects various files and partitions.

Different Types of USB Drop Attacks

To better understand how they work, you should be familiar with the different types of USB drop attacks that exist.

1. Social Engineering

When it comes to social engineering, it boils down to manipulation.

Social engineering relies on the curiosity of potential victims of malware. The USB drives for this type of attack usually have files with suspicious, albeit inviting, names.

Most files will have a "Top Secret" label or something similar. Clicking these files will redirect victims to malicious sites where the attackers can scam them into sharing their personal information, installing malware, or giving money.

2. Malicious Code

malicious code

The most common type of a USB drop attack is malicious code.

Simply put, these types of attacks include USB devices containing malware. Opening the USB drive on your computer or clicking a file will trigger the malware to release malicious code into your machine, directly attacking your system.

3. Human Interface Device (HID) Spoofing

A USB drop attack with quite a different approach is HID spoofing.

Human interface device spoofing tricks a computer into "thinking" the USB drive is a keyboard. This way, hackers can, with the use of pre-configured keystrokes, install all kinds of malware from a remote location.

4. USB Kill

USB kill attacks distinguish themselves from other USB drop attacks in their intent.

While other attacks aim to steal information or compromise files, USB kill does what it says on the box. It seeks to destroy your computer.

Once you plug it in, it releases a high-voltage zap to your computer, frying your components and leaving your machine unusable.

USB Drop Attack Examples

Although USB drop attacks are not the most common way of spreading malware, there have been cases where they caused severe damage.

Example 1. 2021 Natanz incident

The most well-known USB drop attack is the Stuxnet worm attack. It includes a worm that targets systems essential for managing industrial processes.

One such attack happened at Iran's Natanz nuclear facility when someone plugged a dropped USB into a computer on April 11, 2021. The USB drive was infected and enabled attackers to access the nuclear facility's computer system, allowing them to control the nuclear plant and drastically reduce its efficiency.

Example 2. 2008 Malware Infection of the United States Department of Defense

One day the US pentagon military cannot easily forget is the day they experienced a USB drop attack in November 2008. It was regarded by tabloids as the day"The Worm ate the Pentagon". It's one of the most serious breach's ever discovered on the Pentagon's classified systems. This breach was introduced to the system via an unsecured USB drive carrying a worm called Agent.btz. This drive was inserted into one of their systems and the warm crawled straight through their DoD's Network protocols, leaving U.S. government's top intel agencies compromised.

No one knows till this day who created the bug, who was patient zero, if or when any information was taken. It was also discovered that all USB drives confiscated from active operatives already had the bug, but it took a whole of 14 months to completely eradicate the bug.

It took just a flash drive infected with a"agent.btz" virus, inserted into a DoD's computer network to hold the US military ransom. The virus spread quickly throughout their network system, infecting classified and unclassified data alike. This bug opened the door of the US military servers to it's creator, so Top secrete file and information could be transferred else where.

In the end, the US military learnt valuable lessons, took step's as well as set-up polices and protocols to prevent re-occurrence of such an attack. They resolved to barn the use of USB drives within the Pentagon and other Defence structures.

The Goal of USB Drop Attacks

a hacker

What are these attackers trying to accomplish? They are attempting to infiltrate your system, but to do what exactly? USB drop attacks usually have one or more objectives like those below.

1.Data Theft

Like other malware attacks, USB drop attacks will likely attack your data upon infiltrating your computer. Once the malware infects your system, the attackers can gain access to login credentials or any sensitive data they need.

2.Spreading Within Networks

USB drop attacks in a workplace setting will most likely attempt to spread malware through a business network. The USB will contain malware that exploits the network's security weaknesses and compromises anything it can.


In some cases, USB drops can sabotage instead of steal. Like in the Stuxnet worm case, attackers access a facility's computer system, aiming to undermine the operation of computer-controlled machinery.

4.Hardware Destruction

A rare goal of USB drop attacks is hardware destruction. Although it doesn't happen often, it is still a genuine possibility.

Rather than information theft, which is specific to software, it entails the destruction of your hardware.

Once you plug such a USB drive into your computer, it zaps your machine with a strong electrical current, thus frying your components and destroying your computer.

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How To Protect Yourself From USB Drop Attacks

The following preventative measures are critical for protecting against USB drop attacks.

Tip 1. Use Only Verified and Trusted Devices

plugging a usb into a laptop

It might sound obvious, but it nevertheless begs repeating: only use trusted USB drives.

If you have any doubt about what's on the device or whether or not it's infected, don't plug it into your computer. That is by far the easiest way to avoid malware infection.

Tip 2. Use Reliable Antivirus and Anti-Malware

Using reliable anti-malware and antivirus software can go a long way. If a plugged-in USB is infected, it will perform a scan or alert you if something is amiss.

Tip 3. Regularly Scan Your Device

Another critical step regarding USB security is scanning your device regularly.

Even if it's your device, there is still a chance it has been infected since you last plugged it into your computer. You may have left it unattended at work or when you were out somewhere. There is a risk that someone took your USB and installed malicious software during that time.

Tip 4. Turn Off Autoplay on Your Computer

cyber security

Although the autoplay feature on your computer allows a smoother user experience, it also opens the door to malicious programs.

Autoplay automatically performs various actions once you connect a USB drive to your device. This way, it can activate the malware lurking on your USB.

Tip 5. Open USB Devices With Virtualization Software

Another preventative measure is implementing virtualization software to check what's on a USB in question without harming your computer.

Virtualization software creates a separate virtual environment within your computer where you can open and explore the contents of the USB drive.

It is essential to turn off file sharing between your computer and the virtual machine since that can backfire and allow the contents of the USB to leak into your host computer.

How To Recover Data if Your Device Is Infected

Even when you take these steps to protect yourself from USB drop attacks, they sometimes find a way into your computer.

Threat actors constantly develop new types of malware, making it increasingly difficult to keep up with them.

If they find a way into your system, they can render your files unusable or even delete them. You certainly don't want all your efforts to be in vain.

Just to be safe, install data recovery software. One such software is Wondershare Recoverit.

Wondershare Recoverit allows you to recover files deleted by malwares or viruses from various devices. It supports hard drive recovery, USB recovery, SD card recovery, and more.

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Using Wondershare Recoverit is a piece of cake if you follow these few steps:

  1. First of all, download and install Wondershare Recoverit on your PC.
  2. launch the program and select Hard Drives and Locations
    selecting a recovery location
  3. Afterward, pick a storage location from which you would like to retrieve your lost data. The program will start scanning the drive you've selected.
  4. Wait patiently for Wondershare Recoverit to finish scanning the location. Although it is quick, it might need more time to scan larger files.
    scan files lost by virus attack
  5. When the scan is done, pick the files you want to retrieve and click on Recover. Then, simply choose where you'd like to save them.
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USB drop attacks are just another way of spreading malware and, as such, are very dangerous and threatening.

Hold back that sigh of exhaustion because, by now, you have learned what USB attacks are, in what forms they come, and what they strive to accomplish. Familiarizing yourself with the enemy is the first step to defeating it.

Although new malicious software will always exist, you shouldn't lose hope because proper knowledge and tools can help you protect your devices.

You will do your best to protect your devices from harm through safety precautions such as installing anti-malware and antivirus software, using only trusted USB devices, and having file recovery software.

Therefore, take all the necessary steps and don't pick up any suspicious-looking USB drive.

Theo Lucia
Theo Lucia Apr 15, 24
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