LAS VEGAS - Hackers have historically tried to trick their users into giving up their passwords through phishing schemes or viruses embedded in downloads, but now they might be able to get into your computer by something you plug into it.
A white hat hacker known as MG invented the O.MG cable, which looks exactly like an official iPhone lightning cable but with one small difference: it has a small chip inside that lets nearby hackers wirelessly access any computer the cable is plugged into.
MG says he built the cables by hand over a period of months, and he made a grand unveiling at the annual hacking convention Defcon, which took place this past weekend in Las Vegas.
How does it work? MG crafted a tiny chip that is hidden in the USB end of the lightning cable, and when it's plugged in, it creates a wireless network that the hacker can access to hijack the victim's computer. MG showed off the functionality at Defcon for Motherboard. He connected to the IP address associated with the cable, and within seconds, he was able to retrieve a password from the Mac.
The cable looks and functions just like an actual lightning cable -- iTunes will recognize the iPhone, and all the features are still accessible. But if a hacker connects to the network, they can inject "payloads" that can retrieve passwords or send malicious code.
MG also says the technology can be adapted to most USB cables; he focused on the lightning cable because it's one of the most difficult to alter.
Hardware hacks aren't necessarily new, even the U.S. military temporarily banned USB drives in 2008 after a service member plugged a memory stick with malicious code into a laptop connected to U.S. Central Command. The Pentagon had to spend more than a year cleaning up the virus that wormed through military networks.
Ultimately, MG says his goal isn't to steal your data: he's a security consultant for Verizon Media, and his aim is to spread awareness that everyday-use items like charging cables and USB memory drives can potentially cause a lot of harm. As long as you're diligent about knowing exactly what you're plugging into your computer, you'll be safe.
MG said he made the first batch of cables by hand and made some available for sale on Hak5.org.
They quickly sold out.