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Your Trade Show Swag Could Be a Data Grab

June 14th, 2019

USB drive

Who doesn't love trade show swag? We've scored those balls that light up and blink when bounced and pens that write in different colors. The kids loved them.

The best was a huge houseplant some vendor was giving away because they couldn't take it on the plane with them.

The most useful stuff - besides an umbrella at a rainy show in Atlanta - has always been the flash drives. The first ones were 64MB. Now, anything less than 64GB isn't worth picking up. Vendors love them because they can print their name and logo on them and load them with auto-run promotional material knowing that people will actually see it and be reminded of them every time they use the drive.

Not realizing we were playing cybersecurity roulette, we would come home with a handful of drives giving them away to grateful friends. Now, after reading an excerpt from reporter Kate Fazzini’s book Kingdom of Lies: Unnerving Adventures in the World of Cybercrime, we'll stick with the pens and stress balls.

The excerpt details a flash drive con that Bo Chou has worked for years. A former hacker with China’s People’s Liberation Army, Chou went freelance after taking a hotel job in Shanghai and discovering the thousands of foreigners attending conferences. They were as eager for quality swag as anyone, so Chou bought flash drives by the thousands, loaded them with a type of malware that steals data, and distributed the freebies. As soon as the drives got plugged into a computer, the information would flow. Chou edited it, compiled it into reports and sold it on legitimate business intelligence sites.

The business became lucrative quickly and it still is, even though we've all become smarter about cybersecurity.

Let this be a warning: Next time you're tempted by a freebie drive, ask yourself if you're willing to share everything on your hard drive with Bo Chou or others like him.

Image by aiiapromogifts from Pixabay

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