Your phone’s power pack is typically a relatively harmless piece of technology, but recently, researchers at a Chinese security company discovered a way to hack into a fast-charging power adapter so that, when connected to a phone, the Power block can melt the phone or even start a fire.
In a study published by Xuanwu Laboratories (which is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent), the researchers detailed BadPower’s trick that works by tampering with firmware inside fast-charging power adapters.
Typically, when a phone is connected to a power pack with support for fast charging, the phone and the power adapter communicate with each other to determine the proper amount of electricity that can be sent to the phone without damaging the device; The power adapter can send, the faster you can charge the phone.
However, by hacking into the fast charging firmware built into a power adapter, Xuanwu Labs demonstrated that bad actors could potentially manipulate the power pack to send more electricity than a phone can handle, overheating the phone, melting internal components , or as Xuanwu Labs discovered, setting the device on fire.
After confirming the research results, Xuanwu Labs decided to test BadPower by loading it into 35 different power bricks (out of 234 models currently available for sale) and found that 18 of those chargers (manufactured by eight different suppliers) were susceptible to attack.
To make matters worse, if BadPower is used to hack a power block, there would be no external signs or easy ways to detect that the device had been tampered with. Fortunately, for now, it will require the bad actor to have physical access to the power adapter. The Xuanwu researchers claimed that hacking a power adapter was as simple as plugging it into a custom designed portable platform that can load malicious code into the power block in just a few seconds. And in some cases, researchers were able to charge BadPower simply by connecting a power adapter to an infected phone or laptop.
The small advantage of BadPower is that the trick can be closed by updating the firmware of a power pack. Unfortunately, after analyzing 34 different chips used in fast-charging adapters, the Xuanwu researchers found that 18 of the chips had no support for upgradeable firmware, meaning that for some bricks there would be no way to protect against BadPower.
Xuanwu Labs contacted vendors who made vulnerable power adapters with advice on how to protect against future BadPower attacks, including improving firmware security and including additional charging precautions to prevent the phone from overheating.
While BadPower or similar hacks don’t seem to have been used in the wild yet, for those concerned about people playing with their power bricks, BadPower serves as a good reminder that physical security remains the first line of defense when it comes to Protect Your Technology Because if a hacker can’t access your power block, it won’t be able to load the malicious code necessary to make your power adapter go crazy.