UK researchers invent device to thwart USB malware


A team of researchers at a UK university have designed a new device that they believe will mitigate the risk of malicious USB drives.

The “external scanning device” was designed at the University of Liverpool Hope and will go into production soon after obtaining a patent from the Indian government.

It was designed to overcome a major problem with operating systems: if they are not configured correctly, they will trust all USB drives, no matter what may be installed on them.

This could allow automatic transfer of malware from the USB stick to the host PC.

However, the new device sits between the PC or laptop and the USB flash drive, scanning removable media for malware while hiding information on the computer so that it is “nearly impossible” to find. malicious code infects the machine.

“Our invention protects the host computing device by providing an additional layer of hardware security and by hiding information from the host operating system. The disguised information effectively confuses the external memory device which is plugged into the computing device, ”explained the project manager, Shishir Kumar Shandilya.

“The invented device also scans the USB and decides the visibility and accessibility of files present in the USB devices on the host computer, giving either full access, partial access or full block.”

This is because the new scanning device aims to “keep malicious code busy” with a disguised operating system, while it scans and categorizes the USB drive.

The project is said to come from a relatively new field known as Nature Inspired Cybersecurity (NICS), which takes ideas from the natural world and applies them to computing, to improve cyber defense.

Shandilya, who is a visiting scholar at Hope’s School of Mathematics, Computer Science and Engineering, said the team is in discussions with manufacturers on how to turn the full prototype into a commercially viable device.

While no longer the threat they once were, USB-transmitted malware threats doubled in OT environments from 2019 to 2020, according to Honeywell.

It is also possible that the advent of hybrid work will lead to a resurgence in the use of USB drives.

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