$5 PoisonTap Device Can Hijack Your Locked Computer In 1 Minute Over USB


We hate to break it to you, but your PC is not as secure as you think. That remains true even if you lock your computer with a password. Should you leave your system unattended, it would be possible for someone to hack into it in less than a minute using a $5 Raspberry Pi device. The culprit doesn't even need advanced knowledge of computer security, all they have to do is plug the inexpensive gadget into a USB port and wait.

The nefarious tool is called PoisonTap. It was created by Samy Kamkar, a well known hacker and developer who's interested in privacy and security research. His newest tool underscores how ridiculously insecure today's systems really are. In less time than it takes to brew a cup of coffee, PoisonTap siphons cookies, exposes the internal router to the attack, and installs a backdoor that can be accessed remotely even if the machine is locked.

Kamkar's device works its mischievous mojo by using the power from a USB port to boot up. Once it does, the device emulates an Ethernet device over USB and starts going to work.

"PoisonTap produces a cascading effect by exploiting the existing trust in various mechanisms of a machine and network, including USB/Thunderbolt, DHCP, DNS, and HTTP, to produce a snowball effect of information exfiltration, network access, and installation of semi-permanent backdoors," Kamkar explains.

Without taking a deep dive into all the technical details, what is important to note is that the process is entirely automated. All a disgruntled co-worker has to do is plug PoisonTap into a PC when its owner is away and the $5 gadget does the rest. And because it creates backdoors, the target system remains compromised after unplugging PoisonTap.

The problem is the level of trust that Windows and Mac systems have with network devices. Since PoisonTap looks like a network device, computers willingly communicate with it and exchange data.

So what can you do? For one, close your browser if leaving your PC unattended, as PoisonTap relies there being one open in the background. And second, you can shut down your system and take it with you. Or as Kamkar jokingly suggest, pour cement into your USB ports (don't really do that, folks).