Remember the Old Days – When Laptops Had Chargers?

Back in the old days – like 2 or 3 years ago – laptops had power adapters that plugged into a charging connector and USB ports that allowed users to plug in USB peripherals like keyboards and flash drives and other devices.

In an effort to make things easier for users – and, in fairness, easier is good – computer and phone makers are making one universal connector which performs both functions.  This is actually being mandated in Europe.

There is only one problem and that is that the connector can perform both a power function and a data transfer function.

If YOU are the owner of the thingees that you are plugging into your computer or phone, then there is (probably) no security problem.

BUT, if you plug your phone or laptop into a USB-C cable in a public environment like an airport or hotel or something, then that is a different story.

I’m not saying that the airport or hotel is sinister, but how do you know that the cable or what it is connected to was not modified or, maybe, not even provided by the hotel or airport (or other public place)?

Since the connector is one and the same, it could charge your device.  OR, it could steal all your data.

Some operating systems can be set up to not allow data transfers, but that is likely not how most people configure them.  After all, that is inconvenient.

So…. New situation, new threat.

By the way, this is exactly how law enforcement extracts data from locked phones captured as evidence, so we know it works, at least some of the time.

And it could be an interesting attack vector for installing ransomware on your device.

What do you do?

First thing is, if you can, don’t use public charging stations, if possible.    That is not always possible.  Or convenient.

Second option is, if possible, configure your device to always ask if you want to allow charging ONLY or data transfer too.  Again, this may not be convenient or even possible.

The next option is to bring your own charging batteries.  These are affordably priced and come in all sizes.  I always carry one with me.  Here is an example of a pretty large one, although they come even bigger, for about $40 on Amazon.  Smaller ones are less expensive.  They can charge multiple devices at once and this one could charge your phone several times before it, itself, would need to be recharged.

The last option is a USB data blocker.  They come in many flavors such as this one at Amazon.  Some are a cable that you plug into the public charging station to protect yourself.  Others are an adapter.  In all cases, they only allow the charging pins to work and not the data transfer pins.  You will need to figure out what configuration works for you.

The point is that there are several options to choose from – pick the one that works the best for you but do not use a public charger without protection.  Source: The Conversation .

 

Last option is a very small gizmo that you can plug your

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