[TOPIC] What is “USB Killer”?

An explanation about the mechanism and countermeasures of USB KILLER

Previously, electric devices with USB ports were mainly PCs and their peripherals, however nowadays, various devices have USB ports such as TVs, smartphones, and games console. Since USB is a unified standard, many products support it. By the way, do you know there are products that can destroy your devices just by plugging it into a USB port? That kind of products are called “USB Killer”. Actually damaged cases have been reported. In this content, we explain mechanism of products called USB Killer, the threats that can occur due to a misuse of USB Killer, and countermeasures against USB Killer.

1. What is “USB Killer”?
2. How USB Killer works
3. Devices that can be destroyed by USB Killer
4. Measures against USB Killer
4-1. Do not connect to unfamiliar USB products
4-2. Use devices that equip surge measures to prevent overvoltage
Summary Security measures are essential for USB terminals as well

・1. What is “USB Killer”?
USB Killer is a product sold by a company based in Hong Kong, which looks similar with a USB memory. Although the shape is exactly same as a USB memory, when it is plugged into a USB port of your device, it apply high-voltage current, and then the device is broken.
Developers produce and sell USB Killer as a verification tool for measuring the tolerance for “surge attacks”. A surge is a condition in which a high-voltage current flows momentarily, which can occur even in ordinary households due to lightning strikes.
The first USB Killer product was released in 2015. Currently, “USB Killer V3” has been released, and it is even more powerful than it was a generation ago, “USB Kill 2.0”.

・2. How USB Killer works
USB Killer looks like a USB memory, and many people may mistake it for a normal USB memory at a glance. However, USB Killer has a built-in capacitor that stores electricity and a circuit that generates high-voltage and high-current pulses, unlike a normal one. Therefore it destroys devices when you mistake it for a normal one.
In the case of USB Killer V3, after quick charging from a USB port, it destroys a device by generating a plus of minus200V voltage 8 to 12 times per second.

・3. Devices that can be destroyed by USB Killer
USB Killer can destroy devices by just plugging in to the USB port of them. According to the announcement by the manufacturer of USB Killer, around 95% of devices were affected.
Verification videos are available that use various devices such as widely used PC and MacBooks. Also, you can watch how a Lightning terminal on an iPad or iPhone is destroyed though a Lightning adapter.
As mentioned above, USB Killer’s attack targets are not limited to PCs and their peripherals. It is better to assume that all the devices that are able to be connected to a USB product may be the target of the attack, such as a smartphone, tablets, and audio and visual devices.

・4. Measures against USB Killer
Although USB Killer is sold as a verification tool, it has a high possibility of causing great damage if it is misused since its characteristic is destroying devices. Actually, in the United States, there have been incidents that misused USB Killers destroyed many PCs.
When you think of security measures for digital devices, you probably think of anti-virus, spyware, and anti-malware measures. However, not only those, it is also needed to take measures against attacks via a USB port. Please check bellow measures.

・4-1. Do not connect to unfamiliar USB products
If you have an unfamiliar USB product near your device, avoid connecting it to your device without checking it carefully. Even if it looks like a normal USB memory, it possibly be a highly aggressive product which is intentionally left for someone to connect accidentally.
If you avoid connecting USB products other than your own one, you can reduce the risk of malware attacks and information leaks via USB as well as attacks by USB Killer.

・4-2. Use devices that equip surge measures to prevent overvoltage
Some devices equip surge (overvoltage) countermeasures since overvoltage conditions such as lightning strikes and static electricity can occur in households and offices. If you use such kind of products, it is more likely to prevent equipment destruction when overvoltage occurs.

The above are the main countermeasures against attacks by USB Killer. It is recommended to prepare against surge attacks for devices that are used by many people or taken our outside frequently.

・Summary Security measures are essential for USB terminals as well
Since the importance of information security measures like the one against viruses has been common, many people may take care about it. However, viruses are not the only ones that cause damages on USB-equipped devices like PCs.
Learn that there is a product called USB Killer and how it works, and then be prepared for possible attacks other than viruses. It is important not only to take measures on device side, but also your perception, such as “Do not connect unknown USB products to your own devices”.

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