Yes, it’s a terrible phrase, but a “USB Condom” is a great little gadget you can buy to prevent an unknown attacker from doing something they shouldn’t when you’re charging your device. In other words, a USB “data blocker,” if you prefer that phrase, will allow you to use public USB ports to charge your phone without fear.
A USB data blocker looks a little something like this, as ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes first brought to our attention:
This little device, the PortaPow 3rd-gen USB data blocker, will set you back a mere $20. What it offers in return is priceless: It kills any and all data transfers by physically removing the connection for the associated wires. Your device won’t be able to transfer a single bit of data to anything it’s connected to unless it has found a way to regenerate the USB data blocker, borg-style.
If you’re even more sceptical than that, and want reassurance that the device you’re using to protect the connection between your laptop and a charging port isn’t stealing your data itself, you can also pick up PortaPow’s Pure USB Data Blocker. Its transparent design should convince you that there isn’t something spying on you (or infecting you with malware) within the gadget.
Is this all overkill? Not really. If you want a little extra peace of mind when you’re charging your device, $20 is a small price for the reassurance. And while you can find a number of similar devices that do the same thing, Kingsley-Hughes likes PortaPow’s device because he’s tested it to confirm that it’s actually doing what it claims it does. (It also comes recommended by Wirecutter, if that helps.)
You can even make your own “USB Condom” if you want, but it’ll probably be easier (and possibly cheaper) to buy one. It’ll cost you a cup of coffee, but you can use it forever—or at least until we all, finally, switch over to USB-C. And then you’ll just have to buy another one.