New USB Type-C Authentication Protocol Can Protect Devices From Faulty Cables

PSA: Some USB-C Cables Are So Poorly Made, They Could Damage Your Hardware

Let’s face it. We have all bought cheap USB cables from shady merchants in the past. I’m charging my phone with one of those cables right now. But there is always a risk that a dodgy USB cable can do damage to a device it is connected to. USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the group in which certifies USB devices, has announced a new protocol to fight against non-compliant USB Type-C cables. Here’s what you need to know.

Photo by Wikimedia Commons.

Genuine USB cables from legitimate vendors can often be twice as expensive as the ones sold through unofficial channels. Most of us use these third-party cables without any issues, but a faulty one can potentially fry devices that are connected to it.

Bad USB Type-C cables has become such a blight on Amazon’s online marketplace that the company recently cracked down on sellers who sold them. But this will do little to stop people selling unofficial cables elsewhere. It’s also hard for users to identify whether their cable is the real deal or not (they all look kind of the same, really).

To tackle the problem, USB-IF has brought out the USB Type-C Authentication protocol which can tell a user whether the cable complies with the standards set by the group. This can be done even if the cable is only carrying power and not data.

Another advantage of the protocol is that it is able to combat malware stowed away on USB Type-C devices.

According to USB-IF:

“USB Type-C Authentication empowers host systems to protect against non-compliant USB Chargers and to mitigate risk from maliciously embedded hardware or software in USB devices attempting to exploit a USB connection. For a traveller concerned about charging their phone at a public terminal, their phone can implement a policy only allowing charge from certified USB chargers. A company, tasked with protecting corporate assets, can set a policy in its PCs granting access only to verified USB storage devices.”

The new authentication protocol could be implemented by PC and mobile phone manufacturers as a software or firmware update, but that’s entirely up to the vendors themselves. We're expecting future computers and smartphones will have this protocol already on-board.


Comments

    It is also a matter of cost. Older usb implementations had protection in them. Usually thermal fusing on power supply lines. Usb 3 seems to be lacking that protection. Probably due to cost and size constraints a software fix is a solution but reeks of band aiding.

    It would be a great increase in general device security if the end user had the ability to force a usb connection to power only while on the move, a friends phone had malware installed when he used a public charging station overseas,

    We’re expecting future computers and smartphones will have this protocol already on-board.
    Google should be able to implement this fairly quickly on its Nexus devices if it wants to.

    That's what Android 6 / Marshmallow does when you plug a USB cable into it - by default the device goes into charging mode until you change it to MTP or PTP mode

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