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June 11, 2010

When Thumb Drives Phone Home

Filed under: Main — admin @ 12:01 am

Here’s a simple project you’ll fail at: Grab a thumb drive near you, one that was made in the United States.

Can’t do it, can you? Try finding a drive that was made in Canada, the UK, Australia, NZ, or anywhere other than Asia. Heck, try to find one made in Japan.

No can do.

A great chunk of the electronics used by the Western World are made in China. We design the stuff, they mass produce it. The Capitalist West is thankful to the Socialist East for its cheap labor. It’s profit that drives the corporations and employment that keeps the state’s masses under control. Everybody wins!

Or do they?

Consider this scenario: Tensions are high between the US and China. There are threats and counter-threats. There is an incident off the coast of Taiwan. The President orders caution, but his orders never reach the ships in the Sea of Japan. That’s because the flash memory systems (the thumb drives) on those ships’ computers have been hijacked.

Thanks to an innocent message broadcast on the Internet, every single PC used by the US Military is taken off-line. Nothing works. All news and communications stops.

It’s a scenario not so far fetched.

Some thumb drives come configured with software pre-installed. The popular Cruiser thumb drives feature that annoying virtual CD drive program. It’s a pain to un-root that software, so most people don’t do it.

Then again, what other software could be installed on those drives? How would we know which software was installed?

A typical thumb drive contains its own interface. Those designing the drive could easily build an interface that ignores a rootkit program. The rootkit program could run at any time to scan for passwords, credit card numbers, personal information, or whatever else it wanted. The information could be sent back to the mothership in China, where it would be invaluable and potentially used in the future.

I’m not saying China is evil and out to get us. I believe that China is only looking after her own interests. Hell, who’s to say that the US wouldn’t be doing the same things?

Anything is possible, especially in a digital culture where being ignorant about the inner workings of a computer is accepted and common.


  1. I’ve considered a similar scenario myself. But, I’m sure the military has their own OS. I doubt something as fragile and important as the U.S. armed forces would trust Windows to keep the whole country safe. Wouldn’t the flash drives (thumb drives, jump drives, drive drives, what ever you call them) have to run software that is comparable with the military’s OS?

    Comment by gamerguy473 — June 11, 2010 @ 11:35 am

  2. I believe the military uses Windows or Linux or perhaps even Mac OS for the desktops. There is probably custom software for specific things.

    The law states that everything the US Military buys must be made in the US. The problem is that the contractors buy the stuff from China, scrape off “Made in China” and put “Made in USA” over it. Then — legally — it’s considered kosher for military purposes. That true for ALL the chips in any military IT system.

    Comment by admin — June 11, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  3. Ha, nothing like some good ‘ol fashioned military corruption to keep the country safe, I guess.

    Comment by gamerguy473 — June 11, 2010 @ 2:48 pm

  4. Well, not all chips: I suppose there might, just maybe, be some chips still really, really made the USA.

    Comment by admin — June 11, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

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