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Threatening Our Online Health

2 December 2014 by Jenn Granger

Cigarettes have long been known to harbour fugitive nasties, but after a recent ruckus it sounds like they may also be used to transmit other kinds of bad health too – this time for your computer. E-cigs have been hailed as a revolutionary way of quitting smoking, but now they’re also becoming a cautionary tale for how important it is to monitor the safety of your USB ports too.


E-cigarettes are battery powered electronic cigarettes that let the smoker simulate smoking, using vaporiser tech to give the feel of tobacco smoking without nicotine; and you can plug them into wall chargers or laptops using USB connectors (or whatever the particular brand comes with). The versatility and universal nature of the USB port is great but can also be used for evil, highlighted by a new method of infecting people’s computers with malware; it’s become knownas BadUSB – a way of infecting USB sticks with attack code, turning them into undetectable hacking weapons.

A recent post on Reddit by ‘An IT Guy’ sparked off a mega debate about it, saying: “The executive’s system was patched up to date, had anti-virus and up-to-date anti-malware protection. Web logs were scoured and all attempts made to identify the source of the infection were to no avail. Finally, after all traditional means of infection were covered, IT started looking into other possibilities. It finally asked the executive ‘have there been any changes in your life recently’? The executive answer was, ‘well yes, I quit smoking two weeks ago and switched to e-cigarettes’.”

He concluded that: “[The] e-cigarette had malware hard coded into the charger and when plugged into a computer’s USB port the malware phoned home and infected the system.”

Users on Reddit asked for more proof that this was where it was from, and – to be fair – there doesn’t seem to have been anything concrete; but the general feeling is that whilst it’s not necessarily certain, it’s definitely possible – and it shows that you need to be careful what’s being plugged into your machine. You can minimise risks by running up to date antivirus and – whilst some people recommend other devices to protect your ports – make sure that if you do use them they’re definitely safe too!

Unfortunately at the moment, experts are still figuring out how to stop BadUSB attacks; so, for the moment at least, the only way you’re really going to ensure that you aren’t infecting your computers is to disable the USB ports. It’s a massive pain but – as a handy bonus – it also reduces fire risk, as the devices you’re connecting to aren’t necessarily legit and might present a fire hazard; last month, the Press Association revealed figures that said e-cigarettes and their equipment had been involved in more than 100 fires in less than two years.

It seems a new generation of malware may be upon us; so in the interests of keeping yourself healthy online as well as physically, make sure that you’re aware of the risks and are doing what you can to minimise them!

Take a look at our security solutions on our website, or give us a call on 0800 045 4945 if you have any queries about the security of your solution.