Weaponized USB Stick – Destroy Them All!
Researchers have developed a new technology that can prevent stolen electronics from getting into the wrong hands by destroying the device.
You just buy a weaponized USB stick with a built-in mechanism, and this self-destructing gadget will destroy anything in its path, saving all the customers who would need data protection (banks, corporations, collectors who handle massive data, hedge funds, intelligence communities, and so on).
The device was developed by researchers at the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (or KAUST for short) in Saudi Arabia, who swear it will provide an extra layer of defense against thieves. This technology works quickly, and can be installed on most modern devices.
Here’s how the protection works: The self-destruct mechanism consists of an expandable polymer, which crumples the device’s chips within a few seconds. When the mechanism is remotely triggered, heater electrodes that draw power from the device’s battery, activate the polymer, which rapidly expands to seven-times its original size when heated to 176°F or 80 degrees Celsius. The expanding polymer used in the device can destroy a silicon chip up to 90 micrometers thick (just less than 0.1 millimeters).
The researchers from KAUST say that a number of different triggers can be applied in order to destroy the device, such as a GPS switch that could activate the self-destruct mechanism; if a computer is taken outside of a building, for example. Another example would be a password-enabled app that could remotely activate the trigger, if the owner doesn’t prevent the mechanism from exploding at any exact time of the owner’s choice. Because the technology can be retrofitted to existing laptops and desktops, the manufacturing costs can be cut down drastically. Each self-destruct mechanism would cost as little as $15.
Another technology consists of an electronic circuit that melts on demand, rendering the devices useless. This technology could be used in mobile phones and credit cards, as anti-theft devices. If the device is stolen, the user can send a command to their handset to cause it to self-destruct. In this case, the materials are special light-emitting diodes, mounted on a polymer composite base with the electrical leads embedded inside; which have been designed to quickly melt away when the owner of the stolen device activates the trigger. Just add a drop of water, and the base and wiring begin to melt away. Before long, the light will go out. A second drop of water degrades what little is left of the system.
The researchers have also developed and tested transient resistors and capacitors, which melt in such a manner that there’s no trace of it. The size of the device doesn’t matter; you can send out a signal that causes an entire credit card to self-destruct if you lose it.
This method will work not only with the stolen devices, but can help medically when a device can harmlessly melt away inside the body once its job is done, or perhaps be used as a military device, to collect and send its data and then dissolve away, leaving no trace.
Note, that passwords are not much help, since people who want to get access to your computer can use a guest account (unless you disabled it), remove the hard drive and install it on another PC, boot your computer with a different operating system or just keep trying until the password is broken. Different “find me” systems are not secure either, they won’t stop the thief from doing a factory reset and then selling your laptop.
Of course, you can encrypt your information using programs like TrueCrypt, VeraCrypt, DiskCryptor, etc, but even a fully encrypted laptop has the possibility to be hacked by the “evil maid” or various other options. You can also use biometrics and two-factor authentication (2FA) to increase security, (such as fingerprint sensors, or face- or iris-recognition programs). These authentications are becoming increasingly popular. What could be more secure than to completely eliminate the information by melting it away? If your beloved device gets into the hands of your worst enemy, this way may be the most desirable outcome.
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