Researchers in Hong Kong have developed a USB device – USB Killer – that appears to be just like any other Flash drive. However, plugging in the device into a USB port on a computer will result in power surge being delivered that will fry the circuits of the device into which it is plugged.
While many organizations have implemented controls that prevent USB devices from being used to install malware, the researchers note that computers and other devices with USB ports are not protected against electrical attacks. These attacks can be conducted by saboteurs. Public-facing computers are especially at risk, and even more so since the USB Killer is now being sold online.
The device – Termed USB Killer 2.0 – was developed by Hong Kong-based company, USBKill.com. The device collects power from USB power lines until it reaches 240V. The stored voltage is then discharged multiple times per second frying the circuits of the device into which it is plugged. The device will continue to discharge over and over again until it receives no power. That will only happen when the device into which it has been plugged has been permanently damaged.
There is a danger that a device such as this can be used to destroy laptops and desktops, but it can be used to permanently damage any electrical device that has a USB port.
The researchers reported their discovery last year and even developed a prototype to display how the attack method would work. According to the researchers, 95% of devices are vulnerable to permanent damage using this kind of attack.
Only Apple appears to have incorporated controls to prevent attacks of this nature. The only device tested that was capable of resisting such an attack was the latest MacBook. The device is protected against USB attacks using USB Killer because data lines on USB ports are optically isolated.