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A software fix for dangerous USB-C cables is coming

A software fix for dangerous USB-C cables is coming

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Now that it's becoming clear to everybody that it's distressingly easy to accidentally buy a USB-C cable that can damage your devices, the group behind the specification is taking some proactive steps to solve the problem. The USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), which certifies cables as safe, is announcing a new way to ensure that your devices are protected from rogue cables.

That protection comes in the form of the "USB Type-C Authentication specification," which is a set of software rules that a device can enforce on anything you plug into it. The new protocol will allow "host systems [to] confirm the authenticity of a USB device or USB charger, including such product aspects as the descriptors/capabilities and certification status."

Current devices could be updated to work with the new spec

In plain English? When a device gets certified by the USB-IF, it will then be able to tell your phone or laptop that it's safe to use via 128-bit encrypted communication. It will happen immediately, before it's allowed to draw power or transfer data. And on top of that, you'll be able to set up your device with rules for what is and isn't allowed from USB devices — charging only, for example, or only accept data from USB drives marked as trusted by your IT department.

Ars Technica points out that it may be possible for current USB-C devices to get software updates so they can use the new authentication specification, allowing them to identify good and bad cables. But that won't apply to current cables, which were obviously made before the USB-IF came up with this new fix.

Hopefully the system will be implemented quickly and adopted by everybody who makes USB-C cables. It might make them a bit more expensive, but that extra cost will hopefully keep your even more expensive hardware safe. Because USB Type-C can draw so much more power than older USB cables, an extra software check-in seems like a good idea.

Last month, Amazon also did its part by cracking down harder on faulty USB-C cables, though that doesn't mean that some bad ones aren't still slipping through. Meanwhile, Benson Leung, the heroic Google employee who is testing USB-C cables on the side, is still fighting the good fight and identifying bad cables when he sees 'em.