What to Do With a Lost USB Stick

As people, most of us have an innate instinct to try to help others. We’re also quite curious. As a result, finding a USB stick “out in the wild” can get various responses from us. If you work in a tech field and your employees have access to computers, some of these impulses can be dangerous. You can find a lost USB stick anywhere, after all. Drycleaners report finding thousands of them every year; they get left behind at transit stations… And you can even find them lying around in the street, on benches… Everywhere. Like they’re falling from the sky.

People are good at losing things, after all. Think about how essential your phone is. Now consider that 70 million phones go missing every single year. Since only about 7% of those phones make it back home, it’s natural to pick up something lost. With a lost phone, most people will try calling it to see who picks it up. This can help people find a lost phone. A USB stick, by comparison, is just a storage device. Most of them don’t have any tracking feature. The only way to find who owns it may be to open it with a computer and look for clues.

But should you really do that?

A Lost USB Stick is Extremely Dangerous

No matter how noble your intentions may be, it is not worth the risk. Many USB sticks that people carry lack any sort of identifying information if they’re being used for a legitimate purpose. More likely, you might find movies or music or homework in progress – If you’re lucky. In recent years the more likely case is that you’ll lose control of your computer.

2010’s Stuxnet case is a clear example. Hackers placed malicious code into USB drives and left them near factories, data centers, etc. Then employees found the USB sticks and put them in their computers. This inadvertently gave hackers access to computers at nuclear refineries. If it can happen at such secure facilities, it can probably happen to your business.

Even lower-profile attacks can be dangerous. For example, malware is easy to inject into USB sticks, and it runs automatically when plugged into a computer. The technique is so common that some companies use dummy USB sticks to test employee savviness.

What Should You Do If You Find a USB Stick?

There are very few safe ways to handle a wild USB stick. You should leave them with a lost and found, discard them, or leave them with the police department. No computer with a drive with read/write capabilities should load an unknown USB stick. A computer running a Linux operating system from a read-only DVD could potentially view files safely… But there are still risks involved as more malware targets less common operating systems.

You might have gathered that this would be a very technical job. Considering how hard it would be to reunite a USB stick with its owner and how much data you could potentially lose, it isn’t worth it. It isn’t worth the work it would take to access a USB stick safely, nor is it worth the risk to plug it in.

Visit our website to learn more about the potential risks of unknown software. If you feel that your employees would be likely to plug in an unfamiliar USB, call us. We can help arrange a training program to protect your company.