It’s no secret that USB flash drives, as small and unremarkable as they may look, can be turned into agents of chaos. Over the years, we’ve seen them used to infiltrate an Iranian nuclear facility, infect critical control systems in US power plants, morph into programmable, undetectable attack platforms, and destroy attached computers with a surprise 220-volt electrical surge. Although these are just a few examples, they should be enough to preclude one from inserting a mysterious, unsolicited USB drive mailed to them into a computer. Unfortunately, one Ecuadorian journalist didn’t get the memos.
As reported by the Agence France-Presse (via CBS News) on Tuesday, five Ecuadorian journalists have received USB drives in the mail from Quinsaloma. Each of the USB sticks was meant to explode when activated.
Upon receiving the drive, Lenin Artieda of the Ecuavisa TV station in Guayaquil inserted it into his computer, at which point it exploded. According to a police official who spoke with AFP, the journalist suffered mild hand and face injuries, and no one else was harmed.
According to police official Xavier Chango, the flash drive that went off had a 5-volt explosive charge and is thought to have used RDX. Also known as T4, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (PDF), militaries, including the US’s, use 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 capsules measuring about 1 cm, but only half of it was activated in the drive that Artieda plugged in, which likely saved him some harm.
On Monday, Fundamedios, an Ecuadorian nonprofit focused on media rights, put out a statement on the incidents, which saw letters accompanied by USB-stick bombs sent to two more journalists in Guayaquil and two journalists in Ecuador’s capital.
Fundamedios said Álvaro Rosero, who works at the EXA FM radio station, also received an envelope with a flash drive on March 15. He gave it to a producer, who used a cable with an adapter to connect it to a computer. The radio station got lucky, though, as the flash drive didn’t explode. Police determined that the drive featured explosives but believe it didn’t explode because the adapter the producer used didn’t have enough juice to activate it, Fundamedios said.