USB malware to render devices 'untrustable'

USB stick

Security researchers plan to show how USB devices can be reprogrammed with untraceable malware at the latest BlackHat Security conference in Las Vegas next week.

The project, dubbed BadUSB', was the brain child of security researchers at SR Labs, Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell. They developed the malware after reverse engineering firmware used to control the movement of data in USB sticks.

BadUSB malware works by reprogramming a USB device, not just storing the malware within the memory. It can be set up to emulate a keyboard, steal data, spoof network cards and even install viruses prior to booting.

Worryingly, the researchers claim their malware is not restricted to memory sticks. It could be modified to infiltrate any USB-connected device. A popular target could include smartphones, which are regularly connected to PCs for data transfer and charging purposes.

The researchers claim there is no way to detect their malicious BadUSB code because it is buried within the firmware. Security software will not pick up malware as they don't scan the firmware when looking for malicious code.

"To make matters worse, cleanup after an incident is hard: Simply reinstalling the operating system the standard response to otherwise ineradicable malware does not address BadUSB infections at their root," it was noted in an SR Labs blog post.

"Once infected, computers and their USB peripherals can never be trusted again."

Khidr Suleman is the Technical Editor at IT Pro, a role he has fulfilled since March 2012. He is responsible for the reviews section on the site  - so get in touch if you have a product you think might be of interest to the business world. He also covers the hardware and operating systems beats. Prior to joining IT Pro, Khidr worked as a reporter at Incisive Media. He studied law at the University of Reading and completed a Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism and Online Writing at PMA Training.