Flaw could allow attacker to decrypt protected USB drives

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Several flash drive manufacturers recently issued warnings about a flaw which could allow an attacker to access encrypted data on a supposedly secure USB drive.

Secure flash drives utilize 256-bit AES hardware-based encryption to protect sensitive information. The vulnerability, which affects certain secure Kingston, SanDisk and Verbatim flash drives, is present in the mechanism used to verify an individual's password.

“A skilled person with the proper tools and physical access to the drives may be able to gain unauthorized access to data contained on [certain] Kingston Secure USB drives,” Kingston said in an advisory on its website.

The flaw is not present in the hardware or firmware in affected devices but is part of the drive's application on a user's computer, according to SanDisk's alert, which includes an update to address the issue.

Verbatim issued a similar advisory, which also directs users to a site where they can download an update.

Individuals should contact Kingston technology support to receive an update, the company said.

Affected devices include: 

  • SanDisk's Cruzer Enterprise USB flash drive, CZ22 (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB)
  • SanDisk's Cruzer Enterprise FIPS Edition USB flash drive, CZ32 (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB)
  • SanDisk's Cruzer Enterprise with McAfee USB flash drive, CZ38 (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB)
  • SanDisk's Cruzer Enterprise FIPS Edition with McAfee USB flash drive, CZ46 (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB)
  • Kingston DataTraveler BlackBox (DTBB)
  • Kingson DataTraveler Secure – Privacy Edition (DTSP)
  • Kingson DataTraveler Elite – Privacy Edition (DTEP)
  • Verbatim Corporate Secure USB Flash Drive (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB)
  • Verbatim Corporate Secure FIPS Edition USB Flash Drives (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB)

“Frankly, it's pretty shameful that these so-called secure drives should be vulnerable to this kind of attack,” Graham Cluley, senior technology consultant at security vendor Sophos, said in a blog post Tuesday. “Clearly, if someone inside your organization, or an attacker…was interested in reading confidential information held on an encrypted USB stick, then this would be a very attractive method of attack (if they could gain physical access to the device)."

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