Don't trust other people's USB flash drives, they could fry your laptop

A hardware enthusiast created a USB thumb drive that can discharge a high voltage into a computer's USB interface

Have you ever heard stories about malicious USB thumb drives frying laptops and thought they were far fetched? An electronics engineer heard them too, and then set out to create a prototype.

The "USB Killer" device was created by a do-it-yourself hardware enthusiast who described his project, complete with pictures and technical details, on a Russian blogging platform in February. An English-language version was posted on a different site earlier this week.

The malicious USB thumb drive uses an inverting DC-to-DC converter to draw power from the computer's USB port in order to charge a capacitor bank to -110 Volts (negative voltage). The power is then sent back into the USB interface via a transistor and the process is repeated in a loop.

"The combination of high voltage and high current is enough to defeat the small TVS diodes on the bus lines and successfully fry some sensitive components -- and often the CPU," hardware hacking site Hackaday reports. "USB is typically integrated with the CPU in most modern laptops, which makes this attack very effective."

The creator of USB Killer, who uses the online alias Dark Purple, claims to work for a company that manufactures electronics and said that he ordered the custom printed circuit board and other components he needed for the project from China.

He allegedly got the idea to create the destructive device after hearing a story about a guy who stole a USB flash drive from someone's backpack on the subway and it fried his laptop when he plugged it in.

Security researchers have long warned about the security risks of inserting other people's USB drives into your PC, and even those from people you do trust. However if the threat of malware infections doesn't scare you enough to stop doing this, the possibility of electrical damage might.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags Hackaday

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Lucian Constantin

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Essentials

Brother MFC-L3745CDW Colour Laser Multifunction

Learn more >

Mobile

Exec

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?