In­stant death from killer USB

DEMM Engineering & Manufacturing - - COUNTERFEIT -

Rus­sian hack­ers have cre­ated a USB stick that can in­stantly de­stroy any ma­chine it is plugged into. Cre­ated by a Rus­sian se­cu­rity re­searcher known as ‘Dark Pur­ple’ the de­vice can per­ma­nently de­stroy much of a com­puter’s in­nards within sec­onds of be­ing plugged in by de­liv­er­ing a neg­a­tive 220-volt elec­tric surge into the USB port. The stick looks nor­mal, and there are no out­ward signs it’s ma­li­cious but it is deadly. Where nor­mal USB drive is pow­ered by 5V, the killer USB drive has “an in­vert­ing DC/DC con­verter [which] runs and charges ca­pac­i­tors to -110V.” When it has reached -110V, a field tran­sis­tor within the de­vice turns on and then feeds -110V back into the com­puter. When the volt­age on [the] ca­pac­i­tors in­creases to -7V, the tran­sis­tor closes and the DC/DC starts. The re­sult is a loop, which runs un­til, in Dark Pur­ple’s own words, “ev­ery­thing pos­si­ble is bro­ken.”

Killer USB is not at all a new con­cept; USB drives are used as a valid weapon to com­pro­mise the sys­tem in air-gapped net­works.

The Stuxnet worm that tar­gets in­dus­trial con­trol sys­tems that are used to mon­i­tor and con­trol large scale in­dus­trial fa­cil­i­ties like power plants, dams, waste pro­cess­ing sys­tems and sim­i­lar oper­a­tions is a good ex­am­ple. The virus rav­aged Iran’s Natanzy nu­clear fa­cil­ity and was bought into the se­cure area af­ter be­ing loaded onto an un­sus­pect­ing worker’s thumb drive. The cy­ber at­tack was re­port­edly a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween the USA and Is­rael and is be­lieved to have de­stroyed around a fifth of Iran’s nu­clear cen­trifuges by caus­ing them to spin out of con­trol.

It might seem im­pos­si­ble that such a killer de­vice would ev­ery cross your desk, but when you buy such items as USBs on­line from over­seas sources, there is al­ways the risk no mat­ter how small you think that might be. You may not be a nu­clear power sta­tion but rel­a­tively speak­ing, if you lose your com­puter along with all your im­por­tant files and data stored in it, the out­come may be just as de­struc­tive.

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