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  June 11, 2010

IBM’s Flash Drive Nightmare – a lesson learned!

IBM may have established a legacy as a leader in computer security, but it didn’t stop them from spreading malware in the promotional USB flash drives they handed out at the AusCert Security Conference in May 2010.
Of course, they didn’t spread the malware intentionally. It was included in the drives they were handing out and no one had bothered to check them or make sure that the vendor producing the USB flash drives took the steps necessary to ensure the drives were squeaky clean before shipping them out.

It is a lesson learned for all companies that give out USB drives with preloaded content – check your drives on your own systems first before handing them out. You want to make sure they are malware free while also making sure that the preloaded content is yours and not someone else’s.

Of course, choosing a reputable promotional company is the smartest way to prevent such a PR nightmare. IBM had to apologize in a letter sent to delegates, along with instructions for removing the malware, which was set up to run using setup.exe and autorun.ini files. Once the drive was inserted, the malware was automatically loaded onto the unsuspecting delegate’s computer. Unfortunately, the final instruction in the letter recommended reloading all the core operating system software, which, as everyone knows, is a nightmare.

If you’re contemplating the use of preloaded content on your USB flash drives, there’s no need to shy away from your plan. This is a great way to share sales materials, brochures, video demos, PowerPoints and other information with your prospects and clients.
With just a few precautions, you can confidently go with your original plan and preload content with confidence and success.

Double Check Your Source Files
As you prepare your marketing materials, make sure the computer you’re using isn’t already infected. Even if the factory checks the drives, you can accidentally transfer a virus through your own files. So double check them before sending them to the promotional company for integration and production into hundreds or thousands of USB flash drives.

Reconsider AutoRun
A file that automatically loads and runs may sound like a great idea from a marketing standpoint. The prospect or client automatically sees your marketing messages – very cool! But, there is a small risk that you can introduce malware. No matter how unlikely, you don’t want to have an IBM on your hands, sending out letters of apology for giving your contacts malware.

Choose a Reliable Supplier
The best way to prevent a problem is to hire a reputable supplier for your USB flash drives. They will be able to ensure that your disks aren’t infected at the manufacturer level so that you’re not stuck with a couple hundred or thousand branded USB flash drives that are infected and virtually useless.

Do Some Spot Checks
Once you receive your shipment of promotional USB flash drives, pick a couple out at random and run them on your own computer. Of course, you want to make sure you have the most up-to-date virus checker installed on your computer so that any of the latest incarnations of malware out there can’t slip through. You also want to make sure that the content that’s preloaded is yours and there wasn’t a mix up with another order.

With these simple precautions you should be able to continue to enjoy the power of preloaded content without the slightest fear of it backfiring on you. The real secret, of course, is to partner with a vendor who also has your best interests at heart. They may not be the lowest cost provider, but at least the low cost doesn’t include the cost of infecting your prospects and customers with malware.