It’s no secret that flash drives, no matter how small and unremarkable they may look, can turn into agents of chaos. Over the years, we have seen them used to infiltrate an Iranian nuclear facility, infect critical control systems at US power plants, become programmable, undetected attack platforms, and destroy connected computers with an unexpected 220-volt surge. While these are just a few examples, they should be enough to prevent a mysterious, unsolicited USB stick sent to them by mail from being inserted into a computer. Unfortunately, one Ecuadorian journalist did not receive these notes.
According to Agence France-Presse (via CBS News) On Tuesday, five Ecuadorian journalists received USB sticks from Kinsaloma in the mail. Each of the flash drives was supposed to explode when activated.
After receiving the disk, Lenin Artieda from the Ecuavisa TV station in Guayaquil inserted it into his computer, after which it exploded. According to a police officer who spoke to AFP, the journalist suffered minor injuries to his hands and face, but no one else was hurt.
According to police spokesman Xavier Chango, the flash drive that exploded contained a 5-volt explosive charge and was believed to have used RDX. Also known as T4, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (PDF), the military, including the US, uses RDX, which “can be used alone as a base charge for detonators or mixed with other explosives such as TNT.” Chango said it comes in about 1 cm capsules, but only half of them were activated in the drive that Artied connected, which likely saved him from some harm.
on Monday, fundamediosAn Ecuadorian non-profit media rights organization released a statement about incidents in which letters were sent with USB sticks to two more journalists in Guayaquil and two journalists in the Ecuadorian capital.
Fundamedios said that Alvaro Rosero, who works for radio station EXA FM, also received an envelope with a flash drive on March 15. He gave it to the producer, who used an adapter cable to connect it to his computer. However, the radio station was lucky: the flash drive did not explode. Police determined the drive contained explosives, but believe it did not explode because the adapter the manufacturer used lacked the charge to activate it, Fundamedios said.
Another reporter attempted to access the unknown contents of the drive. According to Fundamedios, Milton Perez of the Teleamazonas office in Quito could set off the explosives on a USB drive if he connected it to a computer properly.
The police intercepted a fourth disk sent to Carlos Vera in Guayaquil and carried out a “guided detonation” on one sent by Mauricio Ayore to TC Televisión, also in Guayaquil, BBC reported.
What is driving these attacks?
Ecuadorian Interior Minister Juana Zapata confirmed that the same type of USB device was used in all five cases, and said the incidents send “an absolutely clear signal to journalists to shut up.”
Fundamedios has attempted to shed some light on the causes of the disk explosions, but there seems to be little information, as terrorist investigation the government of Ecuador. The advocacy group said the drive that exploded was sent with a threatening letter to Artiede, while the letter accompanying the USB drive sent by TC Televisión contained a message against an unidentified political group.
The message accompanying the threatening message sent to Pérez in Quito included a message stating in part, according to Google’s translation of the Fundamedios release: “This information will expose the correísmo. If you think it’s helpful, we can come to an agreement and I’ll send you the second part. I’m talking to you.” Correísmo is an Ecuadorian political movement named after former President Rafael Correa, who was President of Ecuador from 2007 to 2017.
In a statement cited by the BBC, the Ecuadorian government said: “Any attempt at intimacy with journalism and freedom of speech is a heinous act that must be punished to the fullest extent of justice.”
Publications covering the events note that Ecuador has seen a surge in crime over the past few years, which President Guillermo Lasso attributes to drug trafficking, but the true motives behind the recently shipped USB weapon are unknown.
The AFP agency noted other recent acts of violence around the Ecuadorian media, including a shooting on the RTS television channel, where the alleged shooter reportedly left a pamphlet signed by the Mexican cartel and threatened the director of the newspaper. Last year there was a bomb blast on Teleamazonas, which also received a USB flash drive filled with RDX this month.
But no matter who is behind the dangerous attacks on journalists, these disturbing stories should serve as yet another reminder that — just as you should not click on random links sent to you in a message, open unknown attachments, or download suspicious files You must not remain anonymous. USB sticks, especially those randomly mailed to you, into whatever. For some of these reporters, the thought of breaking news may be tempting, but discovering unverified devices or data is risky.