A Cyber Prophylactic

The Brazilian government will be handing out 9 million free latex prophylactics around Rio de Janeiro during the Olympics, according to Reuters. While the initiative is meant to encourage public health and promote sustainable utilization of forest resources, visitors to the games this coming August would do well to consider their own means of protection from the cyber variety of virus.

Plug your phone into a USB charging station at an airport, mall, or makeshift charging tower at a hacker convention, for example, and run the risk of unwanted malware making its way into your phone. Potentially just as dangerous, data could move the other way, and whoever holds the keys to the charging station could steal your device’s location data and learn where you work, shop, and live.

While a dedicated electricity outlet directly in the wall is generally preferable, when that isn’t an option, security experts recommend the use of “USB Condoms,” which make sure nothing but electricity transmits from the station to your device – and vice versa. A USB Condom is a simple dongle that adds an unobtrusive extra layer of protection to your mobile device.

This is a particularly useful tool for business travelers and unsuspecting tourists. A businessman in desperate need of a charge runs the risk of exposing his company’s network to malware or data theft if he plugs into a sketchy power tree without proper protection. Similarly, a tourist looking to juice up his tablet before a long train ride would do well to avoid the charging station at the hole-in-the-wall internet café next to the train station.

A standard USB plug has four small metal ‘pins’ of exposed wiring which transmit power and data. A USB Condom works by mechanically blocking the data-transmitting pins, filtering out the transmission of anything but electricity between the power source and your phone or tablet, essentially rendering your cord a “charge-only” cable. Plug the USB Condom into the charging station, and your mobile device into the USB Condom, and rest assured only power is making its way through the cable.

Since the technology is so simple, it’s hard to go wrong when purchasing a USB Condom. Just make sure it’s sourced from a reputable manufacturer and not, for example, from an individual as would be the case if purchased through eBay or Craigslist. INT3.CC made the original device, but you can now find them on SyncStop, which has become an industry leader in USB Condoms. There are also some available on the market that allow you to toggle between blocking data traffic and allowing it.

Next time you’re in dire need of some juice for your phone or tablet, make sure you have some protection handy if you have to utilize a USB charging station – otherwise a full battery isn’t all you might bring home with you.