'Digital condom' protects against USB infections
Published 27/08/2014 | 10:55
Security experts have created a “USB condom” which allows you to charge smartphone or tablet batteries from strange USB ports without risking accidental syncing of private data or contracting a computer virus.
Now that most devices charge via ubiquitous USB leads it can be tempting to top-up batteries by connecting to any nearby computer or charging station. But because USB offers data transfer as well as a power source, it is not without its risks.
Fake charging stations can be created to harvest sensitive data, and plugging a smartphone into a strange computer can accidentally backup your data to the computer, leaving it accessible by the owner.
USB cables are actually composed of several entwined cables, wrapped in a single protective covering. Some of the cables allow data transfer, while two provide five volts of electricity. To charge a device you only need the power cables, not the data cables – which can actually put you at risk of unnecessary data transfer or infection by malware.
The USB condom is a small chip with male and female ports which connects between your device and the unknown USB port, linking-up the power cables but severing any potential data connection.
The device is being sold by information security firm Xipiter. The security resource website INT3.cc first launched a run of the devices last year as an experiment and quickly sold out. Now a larger batch is being funded and manufactured via the production website Crowd Supply.
The website asks: “Have you ever plugged your phone into a strange USB port because you really needed a charge and thought: ‘Gee who could be stealing my data?’
“Let’s hope you have, because malicious hackers can easily set up a charging kiosk to "hijack" your device's data or even upload malware. Or maybe you went for a charge on your buddies computer and accidentally synced up all of your data, including pictures and more sensitive information you weren't planning on sharing.”
The devices are now being sold for $10 each, with various discounts for multiple buys ranging all the way up to 100 USB condoms for $499.