Ina Fried

Recent Posts by Ina Fried

Harmless-Looking USB Cable Could Be Used as Attack Method, Researchers Say

An innocent-looking USB cable could actually be a tool for a hacker to take control of a mobile device, at least in theory.

That’s the essence of a new report from researchers at George Mason University.

George Mason professor Angelos Stavrou and some colleagues used an Android smartphone to launch a covert attack, but Stavrou said that any smartphone could be vulnerable when synchronizing to a computer or even just plugged into a charger. Once a cable is compromised, Stavrou said, it can attempt to act as an input device. Like a mouse or keyboard, it can then send signals to take control of a connected computer or phone.

The attack vector is especially pernicious because users aren’t even thinking they might be vulnerable.

“The typical user inherently trusts the connection when hooking up devices using a USB cable because they think they know what it is supposed to do, and they own the two connecting devices,” says Stavrou in a blog post. “Attacks through USB cables haven’t been seen before, so there are no defenses in place to prevent or even detect them.”

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik