All You Need to Know About the USB Condom5 min read

Condoms are IMPORTANTER (I don’t know whether this term exists, but you’re getting the emphasis, right?).

You don’t want to be caught by an STI (or have an unplanned baby) just for the sake of a few minutes of pleasure.

But today, we are talking about a different type of condom. And I am sure, many people have not heard about this.

Just like putting on a condom before sex, you have to put on a barrier on your USBs.

I think you might have guessed by now. We are talking about ‘USB condom’ in this blog. Yes, you heard that right! There’s actually a condom of that sort.

So, let’s talk about it in-depth.

What is a USB Condom?

A USB condom is a barrier (basically, a device) that sits between your charging cable and a USB charging station.

If you’re wondering how this works, there’s no rocket science.

Let me explain to you with the example of a condom used during sexual intercourse. 

Why do we use a condom? To keep semen (the fluid that contains sperm) from entering the vagina, right?

Well, the same concept applies here. 

A USB condom prevents the accidental exchange of data when you plug in your charging cable in a public USB charging station.

In technical terms, this weird yet wonderful device blocks the data pins of the charging cable so that data cannot flow. However, it doesn’t affect the charging capabilities.

But do you know why it has gained so much traction, lately? It’s because of a strange cyber-attack called Juice Jacking.

What is Juice Jacking?

Imagine you’re at the airport and your phone’s battery is almost drained. Worst still, you have 4 hours left for boarding. What would you do? Definitely look for a charging station to get your phone charged, right?  This is where notorious cyber-attack juice jacking comes into the scenario.

Juice jacking uses charging ports or infected cables to steal data from the connected devices or upload malware onto them.

Wondering how is it possible? Well, it’s actually a simple concept.

If you notice, over the years, smartphone companies have eliminated dedicated charging ports from mobiles. Today, almost every smartphone uses the same port for charging the phone as data transfer. So, it has become much easier for hackers to compromise devices.

The Warnings

The world got to know about this ill-famed attack back in 2011 at DefCon. According to a report, Aires Security researchers set up a free USB charging station (as a part of an experiment) at the event.

Every time someone plugged in their charging cables, the screen on the station warned people about the possibilities of a malware attack.

In the 2013 Black Hat conference, researchers from Georgia Tech presented a PoC called Mactans. It used a device that could fit into a USB wall charger or AC adaptor to deliver iOS malware. And guess what, it was done in just 80 seconds.

In 2015, another researcher called Samy Kamkar came up with an Arduino-based USB AC adaptor that could not only capture but also decrypt keystrokes from any Microsoft wireless keyboard that comes under the proximity.

That’s not all.

Again, in 2016, Aires Security researchers demonstrated a video jacking attack at DefCon. The attack involved a USB charging cable that was capable of recording and sending video footages from a smartphone screen.

There’s more…

While juice jacking is definitely a threat, there’s one more type of USB attack that we all should know about — USB Killer Attack.

The USB killer device was invented to demonstrate to people why they should refrain from plugging unknown USB devices into their systems. However, this piece of sample device went through advancements and managed to reach the hackers.

A USB killer destroys computers when you insert it into a machine’s USB drive.

How does it work?

It contains capacitors and a DC-DC converter that sends high-voltage power surges into the device which damage hardware components. Simply put, it alters the voltage level of direct current.  

This is why USB condom is a thing in this technology-driven era.

While there are several data blocking devices available in the market, there’s one device that has become really popular.

The Original USB Condom

Sold by well-known Information security firm Xipiter, SyncStop is the cased and complete version of the original USB Condom.

Xipiter built the first version of SyncStop to scratch its own itch. The company wanted to create a device that could mitigate data risks while charging mobiles on public charging stations.

And to create such a device, they incorporated a simple concept — convert any USB port into a charge-only port by blocking all the data lines.

And in 2013, when the company tweeted about its progress in creating the device, they were flooded with emails and calls.

The USB condom became a sensation in the information security world. Today, they have marked their territory in the industry with big names like Amazon, Reuters, Facebook, Google and more as their customers.

Bottom Line

Over the years, technology has advanced tremendously and so does the risk of getting hacked. We have seen all sorts of cyberattacks in the past and in the coming years, things are going to get nastier. 

If you’re taking cybersecurity requirements too lightly, then there are chances that you may witness some dramatic consequences.

Cybersecurity firms and professionals from all around the world are doing their best to fight threat actors. But as responsible individuals, we must do our part too. For instance, if you don’t want to get a USB condom, then here’s what you can do:

  • Do not use public USB charging stations
  • Do not plug into untrusted computers
  • Prefer using an AC power outlet
  • Carry power banks or batteries or your own chargers