A defence against dark USB ports

The PortaPow 3rd Gen Data Blocker protects phones from viruses and data theft during USB charging

PortaPow 3rd Gen Data Blocker, £4.49
PortaPow 3rd Gen Data Blocker, £4.49

Reader David Tsang writes in with something I find quite alarming. “I merrily charge my iPhone using USB ports in various venues,” says David, “so was shocked to find out from my wife, who attended a work IT course, that this is unsafe.” It seems this practice of being promiscuous with USB ports is hazardous because, while charging your phone, the same USB can be sucking data out of it, or pumping a virus into it.

David’s wife, he reports, was given this, the PortaPow 3rd Gen Data Blocker, by her IT people. It is, essentially, an electronic prophylactic. It is not a product, however, that is easy to review because, while clearly a savvy thing to have in your work kit, it would need a laboratory to test it.

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So assuming that it works, I thought I’d drill into the science a little further. And it took a couple of minutes to find warnings from security people like Kaspersky Lab and others that USB ports are indeed a two-way conduit for data even when just being used for charging. Who knew? But is fear of using strangers’ USB ports as a mains charger a little paranoid? According to PortaPow, customers include Vodafone, Experian, Siemens, the UK Parliament, Eurofighter Typhoon and the Canadian Department of National Defence, so I guess the answer is… no.

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