The Nairobi Porn Virus or: What happened to lockable USB sticks?

My organization recently held a big international conference in Nairobi with around 1,000 participants from all over the world. When our staff got back, almost every single one of them had a virus on their computers that would pop up pornographic ads every few minutes. Lovely. Apparently there was one central computer where everybody brought their USB sticks if they wanted to print something and that is how the virus spread. I know, it’s ironic for an organization that deals with infectious diseases.

Protect your computer

Not the most efficient way to protect your computer. Photo: Domenico / Kiuz

After I had stopped making fun of my colleagues, I asked them why they hadn’t locked their USB sticks so that they were “read only”. All I got in response was confused stares.

I insisted there was slider on each stick that would turn it to read-only mode, similarly to what you could do with floppy discs in the olden times. They insisted I was wrong. When we checked, we discovered, that none of the sticks that we had in the office had such a slider. The same was true when I looked in a computer store later.

But when I went home and looked at all my old sticks (16 MB – 64 MB), they had such a slider. Apparently, at some point over the last four or five years, someone decided that this was unnecessary. What I’d like to know is: why? Surely my colleagues are not the only ones who’ve came back with a virtual STD after a conference.

The obvious answer would be costs. But I find that hard to believe since costs for this feature should be negligible and  I’m sure that many companies would be prepared to spend an extra 10 cent per stick to better protect their IT infrastructure.

If anyone knows the answer, please share it in the comments!

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