​​​​​​​What to know about removable media

If you find a USB drive or other removable piece of media in the wild, DO NOT plug it into your computer! Let’s break down why.

Let’s get this out of the way: You should never plug in any USB stick or other removable drive unless you know (and trust) its source, or if you take special precautions to ensure that nothing on the drive can hurt your device. 

Say you come across a USB dongle, or stick, or drive, or thumb drive, or flash drive, or whatever else you want to call it. You might think you should plug it in to your device so you can ascertain the identity of its owner. Or maybe you think “hey, free drive!” Either way, using removable media you come across leaves you vulnerable. 

Think of it this way – do you lock your front door? This basic, frontline level of security is like using strong passwords and other cybersecurity best practices in the digital world. But using a strange removable drive is like handing over your keys to a criminal. You could be welcoming them in your virtual front door. 

What is removable media?

Removable media and devices are portable hardware. USB flash drives are very common, but an external hard drive, like one you’d backup your computer on, is removable media too. So is an SD card, like you would find in a digital camera.  

While many people today back up their files digitally on the cloud, removable media is still often used. New uses are also evolving – some people use USB drives as a portable wallet for their cryptocurrency, for example.

Why that USB drive you found could be a snake in the grass.

You might naturally assume that a USB drive you come across on your office’s storeroom floor or in a grassy spot next to a well-traveled pathway is simply lost. However, there’s a chance that the removable media was planted, especially if the mysterious drive was found around your workplace.

What do I do?

Bottom line: If you come across removable media that is not yours, never plug it into your computer. If you are at work, hand it over to your IT department.