Wednesday 2 July 2014

Mobile devices aren't particularly secure...

Going through my news feed, I see an article in Engadget about how Boston, Massachusetts with the help of Cisco wants to install wireless charge stations that also report on environmental quality (such as noise and air pollution).

I think there's some gotchas here...

First off, the ruggedness. PV cell on top in reach of passers by - here, that panel'd be scratched in tags and various other marks within a week. USB ports so that people can plug in to charge? Smashed, bent and forced, perhaps even deliberately have current fed back through into them to attempt to damage the electronics inside (presumably correctly shielded).

Secondly, and more of concern though, would be data security I think. Will the sockets just provide power, or will they have some sort of smarts on the data pins of the USB connection? Even if they just provide power, what's to stop someone fitting a compact skimming device of some sort? "Yes, of course I trust this charger, it's a park bench!" ... or is it? Particularly in affluent areas where the value of people's data would be greater...

USB sockets don't lend themselves to ruggedising - I think public charge points are something that would definitely benefit from the use of wireless charging technology. The trick now is to get people to agree on a standard or standards licensed in a fair fashion (similar to key mobile technology necessary for its function).

The other part of the equation I think is to be able to instruct a phone, "ONLY USE THIS USB CONNECTION FOR POWER". I know on my Galaxy Nexus, at least, I can turn off USB debugging and having the phone present an MTP/PTP share to the host device it connects to. That said, it also supports USB OTG and no doubt other magical maintenance modes depending on what other signalling is sent via the ID pin and between the data and power lines in the micro USB connector it employs.

Apple have built into their OS a feature that says, "Do you trust this device" when you connect a charger etc., but the impression I get is it's an all or nothing. What if you still want to charge, but you don't trust the charger data wise?

We live in an increasingly connected society where the intelligence of once simple, single purpose devices (power sockets, telephones etc.) has increased to the point where you're not just plugging in a telephone to charge, you're also connecting a gateway to your personal data to a device wholly out of your control.

I wonder if someone's built a USB plug to strip out the data pins and just supply power to a given device - a charging condom for your phone... It'll charge slower (unless of course you apply the correct resistance across the power and data lines depending on the phone model), but at least you know you won't be connecting your phone to an unknown device for anything more than power.

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