Malware and your USB stick (USB Safety part 1)

For us old-timers, there is a memory of the old days when we passed around floppy disks (floppies) to share computer programs, data files or images.  Floppies where great because users could easily read and write to them.  It didn’t take long for viruses and other malware to begin spreading through the sharing of floppies.  In fact, floppies from unknown sources where often handled with suspicion.  People would frequently scan floppies using anti-virus software.  These days, the floppy disk has almost completely disappeared, along with the issue spreading malware on them.

A whole generation of people has grown up without an easy-to-use read/write exchange media similar to the floppy disk.  For a long time, sharing data was in the form of CD-ROM and DVD.  These require special software to create and read.  They also don’t allow new information to be added to them once they are created.   It is very difficult for malware to spread via these formats for that reason.

With the advent of the USB memory stick or thumb drive (sticks), we now have a new easy-to-use read/write exchange media.  Usage of sticks has increased drastically in the past couple of years.  Us old-timers have looked upon these sticks with the same suspicion we use to reserve for floppies.  I never allow sticks from unknown sources to be plugged into my computer.  People who are new to the realities of the Information Age (particularly, younger people or others who have just started using computers within the past few years) don’t have this same prohibition.  I’ve witnessed people gleefully passing around sticks to share files or run software on various systems.  I’ve watched as people would use their sticks for both work and personal purposes (back in the old days with floppies, this was an absolute no-no).  As a result, industry is now witnessing computers and networks get infected, just like the old days.

Such usage of sticks has rebirthed the spread of malware.  According to Trend Micro, sticks and other types of external drives are highly common sources for the spread computer virus infection.  The problem is getting worse very quickly.  Companies and private users are now faced with this new onslaught of malware.