USB-C cryptography

An upgrade to the USB-C standard allows cryptography to be used to authenticate connected devices. It will ensure that devices are properly certified, but can also be used to enhance security …

For example, USB charging points offered in public places like airports and coffee shops create a vulnerability if a bad actor replaced them with a device designed to deliver malware – or simply if a cheap counterfeit charger is used which fails to deliver the correct amount of power.

The new standard, known simply as USB Type-C Authentication, will ensure that it is a genuine charger.

The standard allows devices to be authenticated using either data or power delivery channels, which means that a charger can be verified without opening up a data connection to a Mac or iPad.

The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF) said that authentication takes place immediately on connection, and before any type of device access is permitted.

USB Type-C Authentication empowers host systems to protect against non-compliant USB chargers and to mitigate risks from malicious firmware/hardware in USB devices attempting to exploit a USB connection. Using this protocol, host systems can confirm the authenticity of a USB device, USB cable or USB charger, including such product aspects as the capabilities and certification status. All of this happens right at the moment a connection is made – before inappropriate power or data can be transferred.

Adoption of the new USB-C cryptography standard is optional.

“USB-IF is excited to launch the USB Type-C Authentication Program, providing OEMs with the flexibility to implement a security framework that best fits their specific product requirements,” said USB-IF President and COO Jeff Ravencraft. “As the USB Type-C ecosystem continues to grow, companies can further provide the security that consumers have come to expect from certified USB devices.”

It isn’t known at this stage whether Apple will adopt it, but given the company’s commitment to security, it seems more likely than not.

Companies which implement their own USB security policies on company-issued devices will be able to continue to do so.

Photo: Shutterstock

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Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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