That USB charger may be watching you

Just in case you don't have enough to be paranoid about.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

Smile! You're on a spy camera!

Yesterday, I was digging through the Prime Day sale offerings when I found a deal for the CAMAKT 1080P HD USB Wall Charger Hidden Spy Camera.

This looks like a typical cube-shaped USB wall charger. Actually, it is a typical USB wall charger, but it also houses a tiny 1080p camera, and a slot for a micro SD card. When it senses motion, it records video.

It's a relatively primitive unit. There's no wireless access to the recordings. The person doing the spying not only has to place the camera, but also has to retrieve the card from the device. Some user comments on Amazon have indicated a difficulty removing the videos from the card without having access to the spy camera itself.

Even so, it's a disturbing escalation in the realm of digital spying and stalking. This thing, even without the Prime Day discount, is only about sixty bucks.

Amazon reviewers have indicated that there's an LED that comes on when motion is sensed. While that might seem to obviate the secrecy of the spy camera, it can be circumvented easily enough with a bit of tape or paint.

We've discussed other USB-related spy devices. As a very serious example, the Stuxnet virus was delivered, via a USB stick, into Iran's Natanz centrifuge facilities. It was used to destabilize those machines, setting back Iran's nuclear program.

But USB spy devices aren't just being used as international weapons of digital destruction. A few years ago, we discussed how a USB charger could be turned into a very stealthy keylogger.

Another device found on Amazon looks like a USB car charger, but contains a GPS tracker. While the device claims to bind with a cell phone to provide positioning information if a car is stolen, and also claims to remotely stop a vehicle, a collection of one-star user reviews indicate buyers were distinctly unimpressed.

Even though the device currently sold on Amazon seems a bit craptastic, it's indicative of the malicious potential of something as common and benign as a USB car charger.

There are some potential positive uses for these troubling devices. The spy camera spotlighted at the beginning of this article has been used by some users to keep an eye on belongings during a hotel stay. The vehicle tracker could be used to keep track of teens, or retrieve a stolen vehicle.

But we all know that's not where the big market is for these devices. These devices are going to be bought by suspicious spouses, nosy employers, perverted stalkers, industrial spies, and the like.

Unfortunately, your defense against these intrusions is similar to everything else these days: be aware, be observant, and be diligent. If you notice a charger you didn't install, be suspicious.

Between these devices, the prevalence of malware, our TVs watching us, and even the always-listening nature of Alexa and our smartphones, our privacy may be all but gone. Does this scare you? Share your paranoia in the TalkBacks below.

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