Fast chargers have become ubiquitous in recent times. We started seeing fast charging being used a marketing tool since the OPPO Find 7 20W VOOC charging back in 2014. In 2020, OPPO showcased 125W fast charging for phones which is stupefying by any measure.
However, it seems that these fast charging systems have a fatal flaw. Researchers from Tencent Security labs found an exploit which they call “BadPower” that lets them change the firmware on fast chargers and cause damage to anything that is plugged to them. The physical damage in question is serious like burning, which is a scenario you wouldn’t want for your expensive gadget.
Fast charging employs chips that communicate between the charger and the device being charged so that it does its job effectively. This systems acts like a gatekeeper where a huge amount of power is delivered initially and is gradually constricted towards the end due to the nature of Lithium ion cells and consideration of heat generated, which affects a lithium ion battery’s health.
The researchers tested 35 models from different manufacturers and found 18 of them from 8 different brands had issues. You can update the firmware through the USB port that you plug your phone into. They were able to build a method to alter that firmware through a phone or another device and this firmware could send too much voltage that fries the device connected to it.
The Tencent researchers implore manufacturers to do a few things to prevent this form of attack. They’ll have to disable the ability to accept firmware updates or use a method where only updates signed by the company that wrote the original firmware can be accepted.
They also say that they reported this safety issue and actively worked with relevant manufacturer to address this big problem.