The Twitterverse exploded in a spyware panic after a Dutch journalist in Singapore posted a photo of a press kit freebie of a tiny fan that connects to computers via the USB portal. It was part of a goodie bag for the journalists covering U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Techies flooded Twitter with warnings not to plug the fans into computers because to do so would risk a serious spyware or malware incursion.
USB keys have been used in a number of successful computer infiltrations. In 2008, the Russians planted bugged thumb drives in kiosks near NATO headquarters in Kabul, hoping that American military personnel would buy a drive and plug it into a secure computer, which they reportedly did. The Telegraph reported that the Kremlin spied on delegates to the Group of 20 meeting in 2013 by passing out USB pen drives capable of downloading information from laptops.
The fan was one of a number of freebies provided to reporters that included a bottle of water branded with images of Trump and Kim and a Trump-Kim handheld fan, both provided from The Straits Times newspaper. The kit also included a guide to Singapore’s resort island of Sentosa, where the summit is being held.
It wasn’t immediately clear who provided the USB fan, but it triggered immediate suspicion.
The uproar began with a tweet in Dutch from journalist Harald Doornbos, who posted a photo of the USB fan still in a plastic bag. “Handy,” he posted. “In the press kit for the Trump Kim summit is a USB fan. Handy to stay cool while writing. Here in Singapore it gets quite hot.”
The little fan was also in a photo of freebies posted by CNBC’s Amanda Drury, who works out of Sydney and who is also covering the summit.
13/ Handig. In de persmap voor de #KimTrumpSummit zit een mini usb fan. Handig om koel te blijven tijdens het schrijven. Het is hier in Singapore idd vrij heet. 33°C of zo. Maar haalt het niet bij Dubai, koning van de oven. pic.twitter.com/6tQd5d7gCW— Harald Doornbos (@HaraldDoornbos) June 10, 2018
Media goody bag: Mini USB fan, hand-held fan with #TrumpKim on either side to blow around all the hot air…. and a fun guide to Sentosa. NB: that’s not the delegations playing beach volleyball. pic.twitter.com/fbdKVzr0Cn— Amanda Drury (@MandyCNBC) June 10, 2018
Several who responded on Twitter to Doornbos or to those who retweeted the post were stunned anyone would consider using the USB fan. “Seriously?” asked one. Another tweeted: “COME ON.” Several who tweeted wanted the gadget to study it.
Aiieee! Journalists – Do. Not. Plug. This. In.— Not the real Dark Tangent (@DarkTangent1) June 11, 2018
If you are a journalist at a summit with the North Koreans and someone gives you a USB fan, please do not plug it into your laptop. COME ON https://t.co/sxnMyKZwAq— Josh Billinson (@jbillinson) June 11, 2018
So, um, summit journalists. Do not plug this in. Do not keep it. Drop it in a public trash can or send it to your friendly neighborhood security researcher. Call any computer science department and donate it for a class exercise. I’d be glad to take one off your hands, btw. https://t.co/vz8xjUIjVz— Barton Gellman (@bartongellman) June 11, 2018
I wonder how many USB flash drives with government logos will be seeded around the area to trap journalists who think they found a scoop.— Brian Heaton (@geekdownrange) June 11, 2018
A free USB fan for journalists covering talks in Singapore, how cool! (Because it’s impossible for USB devices to spread malware or exfiltrate data, right?) https://t.co/Hin3erdWbQ— Stephen Cobb (@zcobb) June 10, 2018
if 27 journalists plug in the USB fan, the PEE TAPE is projected on the moon— Atrios (@Atrios) June 12, 2018
Malware 101. At best, it’s a keystroke logger or traffic tracker on that particular laptop. It worst, it compromises entire publication’s network.— Mark Rechtin (@MarkRechtin) June 11, 2018
20/ Het internationale mediacentrum hier in Singapore is trouwens gebaseerd in het Formula 1 Pit gebouw. Goede catering en inmiddels behoorlijk druk. In totaal hebben meer dan 2500 journalisten zich geaccrediteerd om verslag te doen van #KimTrumpSummit morgen. pic.twitter.com/uh0P2s7xD9— Harald Doornbos (@HaraldDoornbos) June 11, 2018
About 2,500 journalists have been accredited to cover the summit, and 80 percent of them are from overseas. Japanese, South Korean and American journalists make up the largest contingents.
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