Blue Cross Mails USB sticks – Take-Aways

You have information you want to share with your customers, but how do you do it securely? How often have you heard not to click links sent via email? You shouldn’t plug in random USB drives to your computer. From a marketing perspective, how do you get large amounts of information, such as videos and specific information, out to your customers?

In a report by Fierce Healthcare (http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/privacy-security/bcbs-alabama-re-evaluates-usb-marketing-campaign-amid-security-concerns) it appears that BCBS of Alabama thought that sending out some fancy USB drives with benefit information was the right choice. Apparently the drive contained videos and other information about benefits for the company.

As you can guess, there was lots of skepticism around the method. We are taught in many security awareness training sessions to never plug untrusted USB drives into our devices. This is a common tactic used during penetration tests where they drop USB drives in the parking lot or in public places to see if someone will plug it in. Once plugged in, it may allow external access to the system for the attacker. Of course, this depends on the controls in place on the system it was plugged into.

You might wonder why we still see USB drives still passed out at conferences. There are still people that do this and you might consider those as trusted because you feel you received them in person. A company representative handed it to you, so it must be safe right? Well.. not necessarily. You should still proceed with caution.

In regards to mailing the drive, there appears to be an assumption of trust. This may be due to the fact that it was physically sent to you, vs. an item that was emailed. It came through the mail system, it had the corporate branding, even the right return address. The key factor is that all of those things can be spoofed. It is simple to create a letter with a company logo and branding and to set the return address to something other than your personal address. The mail system isn’t designed to verify trust in who sent a letter. Instead, it is meant to hopefully put trust in the fact that if you send mail, it will arrive at its destination.

Take Aways

When we analyze the situation, it helps us decide how to better review our systems to understand our risks and controls. There are a few things you can do to help reduce the risk of these types of potential attacks or situations.

Review your security awareness training to see how it covers USB drives and the policies around them. Are your users trained on how to handle a situation where they receive a USB drive from an untrusted source? Do they know who to contact to make sure it is properly analyzed before they attempt to use it?

Work with your marketing teams to determine how different campaign types work and which ones are acceptable. They are typically not considering the security aspect of every option and helping provide some insight goes a long way. It is not a matter of someone purposely trying to do something insecurely, but rather a situation where someone doesn’t have the exposure. Talk through the different scenarios and why they raise the risk level within the organization or to the clients.

Review any technical controls in place within the organization surrounding plugging devices into the computers. Do you have controls to block these devices? Is that control limited to storage devices? Remember that a USB drive can also be a Human Input Device (HID) which appears not as a storage device, but as a keyboard. These HID devices often bypass limitations on other USB drive types to allow executing code on the system.

Identifying alternative methods means calculating the risk of each one and picking the best choice. As an alternative, the campaign could have been an email campaign with a link in it for users to click. The risk is that people are taught not to click links in emails. Another option could have been to send the mail, but instead of the USB Drive, include a link for the user to type into their browser. It is recommended to use a link that goes to your domain, not a shortened URL. This provides more trust in that the destination is not hidden. Take the time to consider alternatives and the risks for each one.

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