PoisonTap is a fully automated proof-of-concept USB device that, when connected to a locked PC, hacks the device and installs a backdoor onto the user’s PC, allowing the attacker to access the victim’s online activities. It takes less than a minute and costs about $5.
Coffee In The Café
Imagine you are in the popular café near your workplace where everyone tends to frequent, and you get up to refresh your drink. Being security conscious, you lock your laptop before you get up. Gone for only two minutes, it was enough for a smooth attacker to come by and slyly insert a small device into your laptop’s USB drive and then moments later remove it and walk away without anyone suspecting foul play. You return to your locked PC none the wiser and continue to work, never knowing you have just been hacked.
USB ports and drives have always been an infection point for malware to gain a foothold on computers. The reason for this is that most computers will install plug-and-play drivers for USB devices without much scrutiny. This trust can be taken advantage of by hackers who present less-than-secure drivers as a way to get in. With access to the USB port, credentials can be stolen even when the screen is locked. Current exploits can work against Windows, OSx, and Linux operating systems.
A new generation of hacking USB drives is being developed, putting all of our PCs at risk while we step away for a moment or are distracted. They will get more powerful and virulent over time. Professionals are at risk while at conferences, meetings, coffee shops, and other venues where potentially untrustworthy people are present. It could happen in public, while at a customer’s site, or even in your own work office. It can take as little as 13 seconds and in many cases less than a minute to compromise a system and install a backdoor for remote access by the attacker.
PoisonTap is just one example of an emerging technology that enables anyone with physical access to a computer’s USB port to potentially harvest data and gain access by spoofing an Internet ecosystem. Such bold and scary attacks highlight the need to incorporate both improved physical security and cybersecurity aspects to properly manage the evolving risks.