Replication Through Removable Media

Adversaries may move onto systems, possibly those on disconnected or air-gapped networks, by copying malware to removable media and taking advantage of Autorun features when the media is inserted into a system and executes. In the case of Lateral Movement, this may occur through modification of executable files stored on removable media or by copying malware and renaming it to look like a legitimate file to trick users into executing it on a separate system. In the case of Initial Access, this may occur through manual manipulation of the media, modification of systems used to initially format the media, or modification to the media's firmware itself.

Mobile devices may also be used to infect PCs with malware if connected via USB.[1] This infection may be achieved using devices (Android, iOS, etc.) and, in some instances, USB charging cables.[2][3] For example, when a smartphone is connected to a system, it may appear to be mounted similar to a USB-connected disk drive. If malware that is compatible with the connected system is on the mobile device, the malware could infect the machine (especially if Autorun features are enabled).

ID: T1091
Sub-techniques:  No sub-techniques
Platforms: Windows
System Requirements: Removable media allowed, Autorun enabled or vulnerability present that allows for code execution
Contributors: Joas Antonio dos Santos, @C0d3Cr4zy
Version: 1.2
Created: 31 May 2017
Last Modified: 17 October 2023

Procedure Examples

ID Name Description
S0092 Agent.btz

Agent.btz drops itself onto removable media devices and creates an autorun.inf file with an instruction to run that file. When the device is inserted into another system, it opens autorun.inf and loads the malware.[4]


ANDROMEDA has been spread via infected USB keys.[5]

G1007 Aoqin Dragon

Aoqin Dragon has used a dropper that employs a worm infection strategy using a removable device to breach a secure network environment.[6]

G0007 APT28

APT28 uses a tool to infect connected USB devices and transmit itself to air-gapped computers when the infected USB device is inserted.[7]


Part of APT28's operation involved using CHOPSTICK modules to copy itself to air-gapped machines and using files written to USB sticks to transfer data and command traffic.[8][7][9]

S0608 Conficker

Conficker variants used the Windows AUTORUN feature to spread through USB propagation.[10][11]

S0115 Crimson

Crimson can spread across systems by infecting removable media.[12]

G0012 Darkhotel

Darkhotel's selective infector modifies executables stored on removable media as a method of spreading across computers.[13]

S0062 DustySky

DustySky searches for removable media and duplicates itself onto it.[14]

G0046 FIN7

FIN7 actors have mailed USB drives to potential victims containing malware that downloads and installs various backdoors, including in some cases for ransomware operations.[15]

S0143 Flame

Flame contains modules to infect USB sticks and spread laterally to other Windows systems the stick is plugged into using Autorun functionality.[16]

S0132 H1N1

H1N1 has functionality to copy itself to removable media.[17]

G1014 LuminousMoth

LuminousMoth has used malicious DLLs to spread malware to connected removable USB drives on infected machines.[18][19]

G0129 Mustang Panda

Mustang Panda has used a customized PlugX variant which could spread through USB connections.[20]

S0385 njRAT

njRAT can be configured to spread via removable drives.[21][22]

S0650 QakBot

QakBot has the ability to use removable drives to spread through compromised networks.[23]

S0458 Ramsay

Ramsay can spread itself by infecting other portable executable files on removable drives.[24]


APT30 may have used the SHIPSHAPE malware to move onto air-gapped networks. SHIPSHAPE targets removable drives to spread to other systems by modifying the drive to use Autorun to execute or by hiding legitimate document files and copying an executable to the folder with the same name as the legitimate document.[25]

S0603 Stuxnet

Stuxnet can propagate via removable media using an autorun.inf file or the CVE-2010-2568 LNK vulnerability.[26]

G0081 Tropic Trooper

Tropic Trooper has attempted to transfer USBferry from an infected USB device by copying an Autorun function to the target machine.[27]

S0130 Unknown Logger

Unknown Logger is capable of spreading to USB devices.[28]

S0386 Ursnif

Ursnif has copied itself to and infected removable drives for propagation.[29][30]

S0452 USBferry

USBferry can copy its installer to attached USB storage devices.[27]

S0136 USBStealer

USBStealer drops itself onto removable media and relies on Autorun to execute the malicious file when a user opens the removable media on another system.[31]


ID Mitigation Description
M1040 Behavior Prevention on Endpoint

On Windows 10, enable Attack Surface Reduction (ASR) rules to block unsigned/untrusted executable files (such as .exe, .dll, or .scr) from running from USB removable drives. [32]

M1042 Disable or Remove Feature or Program

Disable Autorun if it is unnecessary. [33] Disallow or restrict removable media at an organizational policy level if it is not required for business operations. [34]

M1034 Limit Hardware Installation

Limit the use of USB devices and removable media within a network.


ID Data Source Data Component Detects
DS0016 Drive Drive Creation

Monitor for newly constructed drive letters or mount points to removable media

DS0022 File File Access

Monitor for unexpected files accessed on removable media.

File Creation

Monitor for newly constructed files on removable media

DS0009 Process Process Creation

Monitor for newly executed processes that execute from removable media after it is mounted or when initiated by a user. If a remote access tool is used in this manner to move laterally, then additional actions are likely to occur after execution, such as opening network connections for Command and Control and system and network information Discovery.


  1. Zhaohui Wang & Angelos Stavrou. (n.d.). Exploiting Smart-Phone USB Connectivity For Fun And Profit. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  2. Lucian Constantin. (2014, January 23). Windows malware tries to infect Android devices connected to PCs. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  3. Zack Whittaker. (2019, August 12). This hacker’s iPhone charging cable can hijack your computer. Retrieved May 25, 2022.
  4. Shevchenko, S.. (2008, November 30). Agent.btz - A Threat That Hit Pentagon. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
  5. Hawley, S. et al. (2023, February 2). Turla: A Galaxy of Opportunity. Retrieved May 15, 2023.
  6. Chen, Joey. (2022, June 9). Aoqin Dragon | Newly-Discovered Chinese-linked APT Has Been Quietly Spying On Organizations For 10 Years. Retrieved July 14, 2022.
  7. Anthe, C. et al. (2015, October 19). Microsoft Security Intelligence Report Volume 19. Retrieved December 23, 2015.
  8. FireEye. (2015). APT28: A WINDOW INTO RUSSIA’S CYBER ESPIONAGE OPERATIONS?. Retrieved August 19, 2015.
  9. Secureworks CTU. (2017, March 30). IRON TWILIGHT Supports Active Measures. Retrieved February 28, 2022.
  10. Burton, K. (n.d.). The Conficker Worm. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  11. Trend Micro. (2014, March 18). Conficker. Retrieved February 18, 2021.
  12. Dedola, G. (2020, August 20). Transparent Tribe: Evolution analysis, part 1. Retrieved September 2, 2021.
  13. Kaspersky Lab's Global Research and Analysis Team. (2014, November). The Darkhotel APT A Story of Unusual Hospitality. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  14. ClearSky. (2016, January 7). Operation DustySky. Retrieved January 8, 2016.
  15. The Record. (2022, January 7). FBI: FIN7 hackers target US companies with BadUSB devices to install ransomware. Retrieved January 14, 2022.
  16. Gostev, A. (2012, May 28). The Flame: Questions and Answers. Retrieved March 1, 2017.
  17. Reynolds, J.. (2016, September 14). H1N1: Technical analysis reveals new capabilities – part 2. Retrieved September 26, 2016.
  1. Lechtik, M, and etl. (2021, July 14). LuminousMoth APT: Sweeping attacks for the chosen few. Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  2. Botezatu, B and etl. (2021, July 21). LuminousMoth - PlugX, File Exfiltration and Persistence Revisited. Retrieved October 20, 2022.
  3. Hamzeloofard, S. (2020, January 31). New wave of PlugX targets Hong Kong | Avira Blog. Retrieved April 13, 2021.
  4. Fidelis Cybersecurity. (2013, June 28). Fidelis Threat Advisory #1009: "njRAT" Uncovered. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  5. Pascual, C. (2018, November 27). AutoIt-Compiled Worm Affecting Removable Media Delivers Fileless Version of BLADABINDI/njRAT Backdoor. Retrieved June 4, 2019.
  6. Mendoza, E. et al. (2020, May 25). Qakbot Resurges, Spreads through VBS Files. Retrieved September 27, 2021.
  7. Sanmillan, I.. (2020, May 13). Ramsay: A cyber‑espionage toolkit tailored for air‑gapped networks. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  8. FireEye Labs. (2015, April). APT30 AND THE MECHANICS OF A LONG-RUNNING CYBER ESPIONAGE OPERATION. Retrieved May 1, 2015.
  9. Nicolas Falliere, Liam O Murchu, Eric Chien 2011, February W32.Stuxnet Dossier (Version 1.4) Retrieved. 2017/09/22
  10. Chen, J.. (2020, May 12). Tropic Trooper’s Back: USBferry Attack Targets Air gapped Environments. Retrieved May 20, 2020.
  11. Settle, A., et al. (2016, August 8). MONSOON - Analysis Of An APT Campaign. Retrieved September 22, 2016.
  12. Caragay, R. (2015, March 26). URSNIF: The Multifaceted Malware. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  13. Caragay, R. (2014, December 11). Info-Stealing File Infector Hits US, UK. Retrieved June 5, 2019.
  14. Calvet, J. (2014, November 11). Sednit Espionage Group Attacking Air-Gapped Networks. Retrieved January 4, 2017.
  15. Microsoft. (2021, July 2). Use attack surface reduction rules to prevent malware infection. Retrieved June 24, 2021.
  16. Microsoft. (n.d.). How to disable the Autorun functionality in Windows. Retrieved April 20, 2016.
  17. Microsoft. (2007, August 31). Retrieved April 20, 2016.