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Malicious Thumb Drives in Justice

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By Allan Holmes August 20, 2008

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A group e-mail sent by the security department at the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys in Washington, and recently obtained by Nextgov, illustrates just how much access hackers may have to supposedly high-secure government office buildings.

According to the July 9 e-mail, which was sent to office staff and contractors with the subject head "Malicious Thumb Drives," security officials said that they had found two stray thumb drives on the ninth floor of the Bicentennial Building on E Street in Downtown Washington, where the U.S. Attorneys Executive Office operates. The drives, one found in the men's restroom and another on a facsimile machine, would, once attached to a computer, secretly steal "certain system information" off the computer and transmit it out of the Justice Department. The e-mail read:

Please be advised that two USB thumb drives were discovered on the 9th Floor of the Bicentennial Building. One was discovered in the Men's restroom yesterday afternoon. Another was found this morning on a facsimile machine. The drives contain malicious code that automatically and silently executes when the drive is plugged into a system. The code captures certain system information and transmits it out of DOJ.

Such a threat underscores what most security experts consistently point out: The greatest threat comes from insiders -- employees and contractors who work within an agency or corporate office. No metal detector, x-ray machine, security guard, identity management application or penetration detection system would stop such an attack.

No word yet on if anyone at Justice inserted a stray thumb drive into their computer.

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