Why You Should Never Borrow Someone Else’s Charging Cable
We’ve all been there. Your smartphone or tablet is low on power and you’ve left your charging cable at home. There’s no harm in borrowing one from a fellow passenger in the airport departure lounge or from your hotel’s front desk clerk, right?
In 2019, that would be a huge mistake, say, cybersecurity experts.
“There are certain things in life that you just don’t borrow,” says Charles Henderson, Global Managing Partner and Head of X-Force Red at IBM Security. “If you were on a trip and realized you forgot to pack underwear, you wouldn’t ask all your co-travelers if you could borrow their underwear. You’d go to a store and buy new underwear.”
Henderson runs a team of hackers that clients hire to break into their computer systems in order to expose vulnerabilities. Since cyber hackers have figured out how to implant charging cables with malware that can remotely hijack devices and computers, his team sometimes uses a trick to teach clients to be less trusting of third-party charging cables. “We might send somebody a swag iPhone cable in the mail. Maybe we have it branded as something innocuous, like a vendor or a partner that they have listed on their website. We send off the cable and see if the person plugs it in,” he says.
Last week, at the annual DEF CON Hacking Conference in Las Vegas — “hacker summer camp,” says Henderson — a hacker who goes by “MG” demonstrated an iPhone lightning cable that he had modified. After using the cable to connect an iPod to a Mac computer, MG remotely accessed the cable’s IP address and took control of the Mac, as Vice reported in play-by-play fashion. MG noted that he could later remotely “kill” the implanted malware and wipe out all evidence of its existence. The enterprising hacker had a stash of so-called O.MG cables that he was selling for $200 a piece.
Malicious charging cables aren’t a widespread threat at this time, says Henderson, “Mainly because this kind of attack doesn’t scale really well, so if you saw it, it would be a very targeted attack.”
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