USB thumb drives hide something far more dangerous: explosives
Malicious memory sticks targeted journalists in Ecuador.
USB 2.0 was released shortly after the turn of the century and quickly became ubiquitous thanks to its fast transfer speeds and standardized cabling, even though no one could figure out how to plug them in on the first try.
One of the most visible forms of USB 2.0’s proliferation came from “thumb drives,” solid-state memory sticks that now can hold over 1 TB of data.
We previously reported how USB sticks can become weaponized, but until recently, that was more of a “1s and 0s” type of attack rather than the “call 9-1-1” variety.
An explosive news story
On Tuesday, at least five Ecuadorian journalists were sent unmarked USB drives originating from Quinsaloma, a subdivision of the South American nation.
After journalist Lenin Artieda of the Ecuavisa TV station in Guayaquil inserted the stick into his computer’s USB port, it exploded – leaving him with burns on his hands and face.
Local police believe the explosive material used in this attack is RDX or T4, a military-grade compound that “can be used alone as a base charge for detonators or mixed with other explosives, such as TNT.”
PSA: Do not plug in random USB drives
Fortunately for Lenin Artieda, the USB drive he inserted did not fully detonate — which could have been deadly.
Ecuador’s Interior Minister Juan Zapata said that similar devices were found in all five packages and that the bombs are “an absolutely clear message to silence journalists.”
For now, we’re going to stick to our old policy of just not picking up or plugging in any USB drives we see, even (and maybe especially) if it’s some form of street art.
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