E-cigarettes spreading malware via PC USB ports

E-cigarettes imported from China are spreading malware to computers when connected to them via USB ports.

According to a user on Reddit, malware infected the PC after an e-cigarette was plugged into its USB port to charge up.

"The made in China e-cigarette had malware hardcoded into the charger, and when plugged into a computer's USB port the malware phoned home and infected the system," said Jrockilla.

This came to light when an executive at the company where the Reddit user worked had a PC with malware discovered on it.

"The executive's system was patched up to date, had antivirus and anti-malware protection," said Jrockilla. "Web logs were scoured and all attempts made to identify the source of the infection but to no avail.

"Finally after all traditional means of infection were covered, IT started looking into other possibilities. They finally asked the executive: 'Have there been any changes in your life recently?' The executive said: 'Well yes, I quit smoking two weeks ago and switched to e-cigarettes.' And that was the answer they were looking for."

Stuart Morgan, senior security consultant with MWR InfoSecurity, said users should always be wary of connecting any USB device to a computer.

"Even if you believe that it is just to charge it, could [it] allow or facilitate compromise (because computer USB ports are not power-only ports)," he said.

Devices can look innocent, but other items that can be charged through USB ports include: torches, portable power packs, hands free mobile phone kits, cup warmers, satnavs and some wireless headphones.

"It is important that everyone realises that this attack vector is not specific to e-cigarettes; any device that is connected to a computer could contain a malicious payload," said Morgan. "People may get fixated on electronic cigarettes but forget the multitude of other devices which could present the same level of risk."

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.