USB condoms are being promoted as protection against hackers. There are two different types but neither are necessary to protect your smartphone. Our global roaming boss suggests alternatives to protect against dangerous public USB sockets.
Security researchers have discovered that it’s possible to hack into a smartphone via hacked USB power socket, especially in public places like airports and hotels. The USB cable connection can not only carry power but also a virus.
It’s possible to get spyware onto a device via a hacked USB cable or even an innocent looking USB socket. The spyware can be built into the cable or a USB socket so it looks no different.
Criminals can leave tempting cables plugged into existing USB sockets or even change the socket itself.
This isn’t commonly done and you’d have to be very unlucky to be infected this way.
That said, there’s steps you can take to protect yourself and probably speed up the recharging of your device!
USB Condom – which one to buy?
One workaround is a ‘USB condom’, just a little dongle for any USB socket which has the data pin disabled. That lets power flow to your device but nothing else.
Just like real condoms, there are better protections available.
Intrigued we looked on Ebay for ‘USB condom’ and discovered there are TWO types of USB condom.
There are some safety devices, many are ridiculously overpriced. US$24/₤18 is crazy OTT, even the ones selling for $7/₤6 are having a laugh.
There’s another type of USB condom …. a USB memory stick disguised as a condom.
Best not to get these confused with real condoms when fumbling around in the dark. Could be quite painful.
Better alternatives to USB condoms
As you may know, our Editor-in-Chief is a world traveller so we asked him for device charging tips …
There’s no need to buy a special protection device like a ‘USB condom’. It’s just one more thing to carry, fiddle with, and eventually lose.
I rarely use public USB sockets because they are often underpowered, offering about 1Amp of current. That will slowly charge a smartphone and make almost no difference to a tablet or laptop. USB sockets in airplane seats are usually underpowered.
These days you need high-powered USB sockets offering 2.1Amps or more. Some smartphones have a fast charging mode like QC which needs a special USB adapter.
AC to USB adapter
That’s why I carry my own AC to USB adapter which has high-powered sockets. Plug that into any AC outlet to charge multiple devices.
Make sure the adapter specifically offers 2.1Amps or more
Ideally an AC adapter with another AC universal socket as well as USB outlets. There are many models similar to this:
Battery / Powerbank
A battery pack with USB sockets is an essential for many people. They are available from small ‘lipstick’ size upwards. They also protect you from hacked USB power sockets.
Use public USB sockets to power up the battery pack, not the device directly. You can’t infect or hack a mere battery. The battery pack can then charge your devices safely and wherever you are.
Ideally, the powerbank can both charge itself and give power to other devices at the same time. That’s something you should check before buying because many battery packs can only charge or discharge, not both at once.