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Getting Owned: The USB Keystroke Injection Attack

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What do you call a USB-based device that can bypass all AV and autorun policies? Although most would consider it a perfect mischievous attack vector, Hyundai has used it as a tool to build customer loyalty. This leaves Seth Fogie wondering: Are people planning to use this technology maliciously?

Editor's Note: If you like this article, you may also be interested in Brad Bowers' related piece, The Evolution of Evil: Changes in the Use of USB Devices as Delivery Mechanisms for Malicious Code.

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What do you get when you put very technically proficient people in charge of building customer loyalty? In this case, you get the perfect marketing tool—an undetectable, AV- and platform-apathetic method of programmatically interacting with the host OS.

Fortunately, Hyundai is using its technical prowess only for good. Put this technology in a malicious hacker's hands, and you have a rather innovative way to create some chaos.

This article starts with an innocent looking package that arrived in the mail. Included in the package was a small key-like device that was designed to fit into the USB slot of any modern desktop/laptop (see Figure 1). This could be a Mac, a Windows-based PC, or even a Linux box.

Once inserted, the USB device would cause the computer to launch an Internet browser that would automagically go to http://www.welcomemyhyundai.com.

Figure 1 Hyundai key

World Views

Let's look at this from two angles: the marketing perspective and the security perspective.

Marketing

First, from a marketing point of view, this device is a perfect solution to provide an enhanced method of driving traffic to your product line. It is unique, technologically sexy, AV- and OS-apathetic, and cheap to develop and mass produce.

Imagine the marketing potential. In this case, Hyundai used the device to open a website meant to drive consumer loyalty. Other potentials could include opening a PDF file, downloading an image or document, displaying a popup or banner ad, a web-based "phone home" that the device was used, and so on.

If we take this one step farther, the device could also be used as a unique identifier or login device. For example, imagine being able to hand out a USB device that would automatically log a user into a website or desktop application using an automated process that embeds a unique identifier directly into the URL (i.e., https://www.site.com?uid=12345)—and not have to worry about an AV product, a policy–based disabled autorun or an anti-USB policy getting in the way. This is a marketer's dream!

Security

Now, let's see a second perspective to the way this type of device can be used: the "paranoid" security world view. Imagine a device that can cause the host computer to visit a website, launch an application, run any number of commands via the command prompt or establish a remote shell—all without AV software interfering or an anti-USB policy getting in the way.

Simply plug the device into a USB port, or socially engineer someone to do it for you, and the goal is accomplished.

If we put on our malicious hacker hats for a moment, let's consider the potential for harm:

  • Direct a web browser to a malicious website that contains code that installs a backdoor.
  • Create an administrator account on the device.
  • Download and execute a reverse-shell program.
  • Delete, upload, update, or create files.
  • Obtain local sensitive data and upload it to a remote attacker.
  • Update local domain name server settings to redirect all Internet traffic to a remote attacker.

The true potential of this attack vector is unlimited and is up to the imagination and creativity of the attacker.

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