As much as they are useful, USB sticks can be very dangerous. When infected with malware, they open up a world of infinite possibilities for stealing sensitive data.

This is why you should never stick a USB device of unknown origin into your computer, or a computer cluster. It’s not uncommon for people to find someone’s USB flash drive, and install it on their computer to try and find out who it belongs to. Little do they know that they put all their data at risk that way.

But what exactly could hackers do with a USB stick? Here are only some of the possibilities.

The Dangers of an Infected USB Stick

For instance, a hacker could program a USB flash drive to act as a network card. The anti-virus software wouldn’t be able to detect that someone has actually manipulated the drive.

The computer would then send its data via the drive, allowing the hacker to copy it. All they would need to steal the data is an internet connection.

A USB drive could also act as a network adapter, a web camera, or anything else that would prevent anti-virus software from detecting the manipulated firmware.

It could also infect a computer with malware that would enable the hacker to easily steal sensitive information stored on the computer, or the network it is connected to.

Hackers usually do this with the so-called keylogger, which records a user’s keystrokes. With that tool, they can see everything that a person types, including usernames, passwords, social security numbers, and credit card details. They can also use a USB drive to take screenshots of sensitive documents.

The security risk of USB sticks is huge, and these are only some of the dangers you could encounter. This is why you should take some measures of protection.

How Can You Stay Safe?

There are several things you can do to prevent a potential hacker from stealing your confidential data using a USB stick.

It’s essential that you install and regularly update anti-virus software, as well as turn on your firewall. However, these cannot always detect an infected USB drive. That’s why you should take the following steps as well.

1. Don’t Plug an Unknown USB Drive into Your Computer
The most important thing to protect your data is to never insert any unknown USB drive into your computer, or a cluster computer. You may think “hey, a free thumb drive,” but resist the urge to plug it in. It may not contain malware, but it’s better to stay safe than sorry.

If you ever find a USB stick and want to locate its owner, the best thing you could do is hand it to a professional. They could view its contents safely, using a computer with no hard drive, which requires some technical know-how.

2. Disable the Autorun Feature
This feature enables your computer to automatically view the contents of an inserted USB stick. Disabling the Autorun feature will prevent your computer from running the startup program when you plug in any USB drive. It will prevent it from installing the drive so that a potential virus cannot infect the computer.

3. Use a VPN
The best way to protect your data is to start using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN will immediately detect and block various kinds of malicious activity.

VPNs protect you from many cybersecurity threats. They encrypt a user’s internet connection, hide their real IP address (while assigning them a fake one), and hide their entire online activity. They can even protect your data over public Wi-Fi, which doesn’t encrypt connections.

There are plenty more benefits of VPNs, and they seem to be the best possible protection against hackers.

Hopefully, you now better understand how dangerous USB flash drives can be. Hackers can do a lot of damage with them, so use only the USB sticks you absolutely trust. Follow all these tips, find a good VPN, and you and your data will remain perfectly safe.