New Authentication Standard Will Make USB-C Devices Safer
A new authentication protocol for USB devices could help ensure you never inadvertently fry your laptop with a bogus flash drive again. The USB 3.0 Promoter Group today announced the USB Type-C Authentication specification, defining cryptographic-based authentication for USB Type-C chargers and devices.
The protocol will allow host systems to confirm the authenticity of devices or chargers at the moment wired connections are made, before any power surges occur or malware can be transferred.
“For a traveler concerned about charging their phone at a public terminal, their phone can implement a policy only allowing charge from certified USB chargers,” the USB promoter group said in a statement announcing the new specifications. “A company, tasked with protecting corporate assets, can set a policy in its PCs granting access only to verified USB storage devices.”
Tackling USB Security Problems
As the Type-C becomes more popular, some problems with the new design have become apparent. In particular, the tendency for a faulty or non-compliant cable to create a power surge capable of frying a laptop. The new power delivery specification will ensure the system can authenticate the validity of a device before that can happen.
The authentication specs for the Type-C connector provide a number of security features to protect users’ hardware, including a standard protocol for authenticating all certified USB Type-C devices, cables, and power sources. The specifications also support authentication over either USB data bus or USB power delivery communications channels.
The new security features are also designed to tackle another big problem with USB ports: the potential for them to be exploited by hackers to deliver malicious payloads. The authentication protocol is designed to give administrators more control over what can be connected to their systems.
Devices that use the authentication protocol will retain control over whatever security policies an administrator chooses to implement and enforce. That means companies could potentially create their own security certificates, and only allow USB devices that have been authorized to connect to their systems. The protocol uses 128-bit security for all of its cryptographic methods and also references existing internationally accepted cryptographic methods for certificate format, digital signing, hash, and random number generation.
Smaller, Slimmer, Tougher
The Type-C connector represents the latest iteration in the design of the ubiquitous USB connection standard. The Type-C is designed to serve newer computing platforms and devices that tend to use smaller, thinner and lighter form factors, which often prohibit them from making use of the relatively large Standard-A and Standard-B versions of the USB connector.
The new standard is also designed for better usability and robustness to accommodate the expanded use of USB-connected devices beyond their original uses as laptops and desktop I/O connectors. The Type-C is designed to be both sleeker and more robust than previous versions. It also features a new, reversible plug orientation, which should help users save time when they try to jam their USB connectors in the wrong way.