Fast-charging hacks can melt phones, compromise firmware

Fast-charging technology might let users charge their mobile phones within minutes instead of hours – that is, if a hacker doesn’t cause them to catch on fire.

Some charging bricks can melt a mobile phone, and if they fall into the wrong hands, their firmware can be further compromised, according to a blog post from Xuanwu Labs, a division of Tencent Security.

Researchers dubbed the scenario in which an attack can invade a charger and other devices supporting fast-charging as “BadPower.” The lab tested 35 of the approximately 234 fast-charging devices, and at least 18 of them – representing eight brands – had BadPower problems and 11 can be attacked through digital terminals.

Fast-charging has become popular in the past few years, powering everything from mobile phones, tablets, notebook computers, and desktop monitors. Its process combines an energy transfer between the power supply and receiving device, involving a set of procedures usually stored in a chip on the power supply side.

“The fast-charge protocol not only includes the power transmission function, but also data transmission,” Xuanwu noted, adding that some manufacturers have designed interfaces that can read and write the built-in firmware in the data channel, but have not performed effective security verification on the read and write behavior.

In addition, a problem can occur in the verification process, leading to memory corruption problems in the implementation of the fast-charge protocol. 

“Attackers can use these problems to rewrite the firmware of the fast-charging device to control the power supply behavior of the device,” Xuanwu said.

BadPower does not lead to data privacy leakage, as in traditional network security environments, but it can achieve destruction of the physical world through digital space, the company noted.

The firmware in more than half of fast-charging chip manufacturers examined – 18 of 34 – can be updated , which solves most BadPower problems, the firm said, noting it had worked with device select manufacturers since discovering the security flaw in March.

Get daily email updates

SC Media's daily must-read of the most current and pressing daily news

By clicking the Subscribe button below, you agree to SC Media Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy.