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Journalist hurt by exploding USB bomb drive

Now that's a flash bang

Police in Ecuador are investigating attacks on media organizations across the country after a journalist was injured by an exploding USB flash drive.

In a press conference on Monday, Xavier Chango Llerena, chief of criminal investigations for the National Police of Ecuador, said authorities had found envelopes containing presumed explosive devices at four media outlets, two in Guayaquil and two in Quito, and at a parcel delivery company.

Lenin Artieda, a journalist and presenter for an Ecuavisa TV program, was reportedly injured as a result of a USB drive that blew up when he inserted it into a computer.

Llerena said the device was presumably activated by the electrical charge it received upon insertion. The drive, he said, may have contained RDX, a type of military explosive, but that has yet to be confirmed by laboratory analysis.

Llerena did not identify Artieda by name but said the news presenter was in good health, with minor injuries to his hand and face. According to Llerena, only half of the charge exploded and the outcome could have been more severe if the whole thing had detonated as planned.

Fundamedios, an advocacy organization for the press and free expression, condemned the attack in a statement on the group's website.

"Fundamedios considers these attacks very serious and calls on the authorities to find those responsible and guarantee the safety of journalists and the country's media," the group said. "This is a new escalation in violence against the press: worrying, unacceptable, in violation of freedom of expression and requires the immediate intervention of the State."

Fundamedios said three other journalists, Mauricio Ayora, from TC Televisión, and Milton Pérez, from Teleamazonas, and Miguel Rivadeneira, from Exa FM radio, also received USB flash drives accompanied by threatening letters.

Two of the drives, the group said, were confirmed to contain explosives. Details about the third of these drives were not provided.

Ecuador is dealing with escalating gang-related violence tied to the drug trade. The Ecuador attorney general's office said in a statement that it has launched a terrorism investigation.

Back in a 2018 YouTube show, infosec equipment firm Hak5 hosted a demonstration with security researcher MG covering exploding USB drives – more as a proof-of-concept prank than an assassination primer.

MG told The Register, "A small thumb drive is going to be dangerous with something like Semtex and a fast enough acting ignition. Your hand is going to be directly on the drive as it gets power."

"I couldn’t say if [this sort of attack has been] used in the wild but it really wouldn’t surprise me if it has," he said. "I know several press mailrooms that explicitly scan for explosives and other dangerous items."

MG said this sort of attack is probably effective for terrorism. "But hopefully it’s more effective at convincing press mailrooms to scan for this kind of thing," he said. ®

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