Bailey's research attracts renewed interest following Trump-Kim summit rumors

7/5/2018 Joseph Park, ECE ILLINOIS

More than 2,500 USB fans were given to reporters covering the June 12 summit. These fans were rumored to contain malware that allowed remote access to the devices powering the promotional item.

Written by Joseph Park, ECE ILLINOIS

michael Bailey
michael Bailey
In 2016, ECE ILLINOIS Associate Professor and CSL affiliate michael Bailey led a research study in conjunction with researchers from the University of Illinois, the University of Michigan, and Google to investigate people's tendencies to pick up discarded USB flash drives. In this study, 297 USB drives were placed around the Urbana-Champaign campus. Researchers tracked how many of those drives were picked up and plugged into a computer.

Despite not knowing anything about the origin or contents of the USB drives, an astonishing 48 percent of the USB drives were inserted into a computer, some of which were put into a computer within minutes after being dropped. Each of the USB drives contained HTML files with img tags embedded that fetched the image from a remote server.

USB fan given to reporters in Singapore. Image credit: via IntelNews
USB fan given to reporters in Singapore. Image credit: via IntelNews
Twelve years later, this research has attracted media attention again in the wake of rumors surrounding the recent summit between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un. According to Intel News, a USB fan was included in the promotional packet given to more than 2,500 journalists by Singapore officials. This fans were connected to a USB cable which could be powered by a computer or other electronic device with a USB port. These fans, which were made in China, were rumored to contain malware that would grant access to their devices. "According to the reports, the malware installed on the USB fans was able to steal computer files and turn a laptop’s built-in camera and microphone into remotely-controlled eavesdropping devices," Intel News said. The government of Singapore has rejected these reports.

According to The Epoch Times, Chinese companies in the past have used "USB keys, cameras, computers, phones, and even electric kettles to infect devices and internet routers with malware," allowing for malicious hackers to spy on users by relaying the data to Chinese servers.

Read more from Elie, The Register, Intel News, and The Epoch Times.

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This story was published July 5, 2018.