May 21, 2024

Researchers Discover New Type of Cyberattack that Could Trigger Smartphone Fires via Wireless Chargers

A recent study conducted by a team of security experts at the University of Florida, in collaboration with CertiK, a security audit company, has unveiled a concerning discovery regarding a potential cyberattack that could result in a smartphone catching fire while being charged wirelessly.

The findings of the research, published on the arXiv preprint server in a detailed paper, focus on a specific category of cyberattacks capable of causing smartphones to overheat and potentially ignite when placed on inductive chargers. Inductive chargers are designed to charge devices without the need for physical cables by utilizing electromagnetic fields for energy transfer through induction.

For a smartphone to charge effectively on an inductive charger, it needs to establish communication with the charger via a Qi communication-based feedback control system. The charger, in turn, requires connection to an AC outlet, typically through an adapter. The study highlights a critical vulnerability within this setup, suggesting that attaching an intermediary device to the adapter could disrupt the Qi-based feedback control system. This disruption can lead to signals overriding safety controls that prevent overcharging, resulting in overheating and, in extreme cases, a fire hazard. This specific type of attack has been termed a “VoltSchemer” by the researchers.

The researchers have identified three potential types of attacks that could be executed using a VoltSchemer. The attacks involve manipulating the charger to control voice assistants through inaudible voice commands, causing damage to connected devices via overcharging or overheating, and bypassing foreign-object-detection mechanisms defined by the Qi standard, potentially causing harm to valuable items exposed to intense magnetic fields.

Upon conducting tests on various wireless chargers and smartphones, the research team found that all devices tested were vulnerable to these types of attacks. The manufacturers have been alerted to these vulnerabilities, with an expectation that necessary changes will be implemented to enhance security measures and safeguard consumers against potential VoltSchemer attacks.

The study serves as a stark reminder of the ever-evolving threats in the cybersecurity landscape, emphasizing the importance of continuous vigilance and proactive measures to mitigate risks associated with emerging cyber threats targeting everyday technology devices.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it