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USB threat report

Removable USB media devices such as flash drives pose a significant – and intentional – cybersecurity threat to an array of industrial process control networks, according to the multi-national manufacturer Honeywell.

Data derived from the firm’s technology used to scan and control USB devices at 50 customer locations showed that nearly half (44 percent) detected and blocked at least one file with a security issue. The firm also found that 26 percent of the detected threats were capable of significant disruption by causing operators to lose visibility or control of their operations. The threats targeted a variety of industrial sites, including refineries, chemical plants and pulp-and-paper manufacturers around the world, and the threats themselves ranged in severity. About one in six targeted industrial control systems or Internet of Things (IoT) devices.

Eric Knapp, director of strategic innovation, Honeywell Industrial Cyber Security, said: “The data showed much more serious threats than we expected, and taken together, the results indicate that a number of these threats were targeted and intentional. This research confirms what we have suspected for years – USB threats are real for industrial operators. What is surprising is the scope and severity of the threats, many of which can lead to serious and dangerous situations at sites that handle industrial processes.”

The research examined data collected from Honeywell’s Secure Media Exchange (SMX), which is designed to scan and control removable media, including USB drives. Among the threats detected were high-profile, well-known issues such as TRITON and Mirai, as well as variants of Stuxnet, an attack type as used by nation-states to disrupt industrial operations. In comparative tests, up to 11 percent of the threats discovered were not reliably detected by more traditional anti-malware technology.

Knapp said: “Customers already know these threats exist, but many believe they aren’t the targets of these high-profile attacks. This data shows otherwise, and underscores the need for advanced systems to detect these threats.”

The research, presented in the Honeywell Industrial USB Threat Report, recommends that operators combine people training, process changes, and technical solutions to reduce the risk of USB threats across industries. Visit


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