USB-C Could Get Safer


A new authentication program could warn you if a USB-C cable risks frying your laptop. It could also develop into a security measure.

The performance of USB-C cables appears to be somewhat mixed, largely because many sold under that name fall short of the actual specification. That inspired dozens of harsh but detailed reviews from a Google engineer with a grudge against such cables — at least until one spelled doom for the computer he used to test them.

Now the USB 3.0 Promoters Group, an industry body, has announced an Authentication specification, a technology that can be built into computers and other USB devices. The technology will mean the computer can recognize genuine USB-C cables and chargers through a cryptographic signature that’s only available to certificated equipment. The devices can then be set to only receive data and/or full-blown power from equipment with the signature.

The idea is that as well as testing chargers and cables you buy, you’ll also be able to protect yourself against any faults in charging points such as on a bus, in a hotel room or in a coffee shop.

In the long run, the idea is that the signature process could be used to identify individual cables and devices. That could allow businesses and organizations to put a block on people inserting any unauthorized USB sticks into networked computers.

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