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Can Phones be Hacked Via Charging Ports?

3 Mins read

In the past, people go all out to find internet connections, either through public WiFi, or cheats. However, in recent times, internet connections have been domiciled to mobile devices.

While a lot of people consider internet access as expensive in Nigeria, a lot of people are still connected to the internet, one way or the other; and usually, the connection is made via their mobile devices.

This leads to the need to keep mobile devices powered all the time.

Everyone must have met someone that would always go out with a charger, or a power bank. This is done because power supply in the country is not dependable, and people still have to keep their devices on.

Some years ago, chargers are made exclusively of hardware, and this make the chargers transmit only electric current. But, nowadays, chargers are infused with technology like Fast Charging. Fast Charging makes use of the hardware in the charger, plus the software installed on the processor and on the charger.

Now, can Fast Charging be used to hack a mobile device?

Before we go into that, let us examine how charging works.

In simple terms, when you plug your charging brick to the wall, the pin collects AC current, and then, sends it to the transformer in the charging brick. The transformer then converts the AC current to DC, and then sends the juice to the battery.

To avoid your phone exploding, the transformer is set to convert AC current to a particular DC standard that won’t damage your battery.

The battery is fitted with enough physics to store that power, so that you can use it later. When you have used up the power, you would have to plug your phone, and restart the cycle.

With Fast Charging, things are a little different.

The greater the amount of current that goes through a battery, the faster it charges. So, with Fast Charging, the power that flows into the battery is increased. This would have been dangerous for the battery, but there is a software on the phone that controls how much of power can flow in.

This software regulates the heat that comes with the increased flow of power, and prevents power spike that could hurt the battery, and the phone.

There is also a similar software installed in the charger. This software would work with the software on the phone to determine the amount of power the phone can take.

This is why you can use a charger with Fast Charging technology with a phone without that technology, and your phone would not explode – the software in the charger has to work with the software on the phone. If the software is not available on both charger and phone, the phone would charge at a regular flow.

With this technology, there is a software involved, and with the software, mischievous people could get into your phone, through charging.

You see where this is going? Cool!

What makes this easier, is because your phone charges through a USB cable, which is designed to transfer both electric current, and data.

There are 5 types of USB:
Type A, Type B, Mini USB, Micro USB, and Type C.
Smartphone you’ll see around uses either Micro USB, or Type C.

How can your phone be hacked through Fast Charging?

Fast Charging works by your phone telling your charger how much power it can take, this is done with the use of software and chips.

Years ago, Samsung Galaxy S7 had power issues that causes the phone to explode. Although, this has been recorded as power and design issue, it leaves room for vulnerabilities.

The vulnerabilities is called BadPower.

With BadPower, hackers can install a power disguise in a device, and once a device with Fast Charging technology is connected, the power load can be tampered with, causing overload, and further damaging the phone. This can work on Smartphones and Laptops; basically any device that supports Fast Charging.

This leaves room for further vulnerabilities.

Another vulnerability that can be caused through Fast Charging could happen when the command to download a malicious software is sent through the charger. This software, when downloaded, could be used to manipulate the way the device functions.

It should be noted that researchers believe that all a hacker needs to do is to install a malicious firmware on the charger. Once this is done, the charger would remain a channel to access the device.

Research found that, out of the 35 chargers that were tested, 18 could be vulnerable to BadPower. Out of the 18, 11 could be corrupted through digital terminals.

Although, the Chinese research says BadPower has not been detected to steal data, the possibility is however open in future devices.

How do you know your devices is being Hacked?

While a lot of hacks happen undetected, these three ways could be a pointer:

  1. The device gets unnecessarily hot.
  2. The device gets slows.
  3. Battery drain while on charge, or drains faster, when not on charge.

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When I'm not reading about tech, I'm writing about it, or thinking about the next weird food combinations to try. I do all these with my headphones plugged in, and a sticky note on my computer with the words: "The galaxy needs saving, Star Lord."
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