For many people, the end of the year is filled with celebrations and gift-giving, both at home and at work. While it’s easy to get excited about the new gadgets and gizmos you may find yourself unwrapping, it’s important to remember that danger can be hiding in even the most innocent of devices. From tablets to flash drives, something sinister could be lurking in that shiny new device, just waiting for you to plug it into your computer.
If you’ve gotten a new piece of computer equipment, chances are it’s going to require you install some form of driver to make it work. While you should always scrutinize software you install, drivers are especially important as by their nature they will have higher privileges and can dig themselves deeper into the system that other forms of software.
As a rule, if the product comes with a driver CD, don’t use it. Find the most up to date driver available online, and make sure it comes from the manufacturer’s official website. There’s no telling where that driver disc actually came from, or what extra software may have hitched along for a ride.
Funky Flash Drives
USB flash drives are now so cheap that they’re essentially disposable, making them a favorite promotional handout by vendors. Unfortunately, they are easily one of the most dangerous things you can plug into your computer.
Ideally, you should reformat the drive before your system even mounts the volume. Failing that, at least make sure all “autorun” features are turned off so that no program on the drive is able to execute when you plug it in.
The ridiculous price deductions on Android tablets have now pushed these things down into impulse buy territory. Unfortunately many of these cheap tablets are either improperly configured, shipping with outdated software, and in some cases even include backdoors.
A recent security analysis of cheap Android tablets by Bluebox Labs paints a pretty grim picture. Many of the tablets tested were susceptible to years-old system vulnerabilities, included root-level access by default, and some were so poorly configured they would accept invalid firmware updates. To say nothing of the fact that many misrepresented their capabilities or hardware specifications.
Worth the Risk?
With so many known flaws, is it really worth entering your personal information into a $50 tablet? With as cheap as flash drives are, is it really worth using the free one you got from a vendor or competitor?
Whether an intentional act of espionage/sabotage by a competitor, or simply the luck of the draw, there’s plenty to be cautious about when it comes to technology gifts this year.