retail news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kevin Coupe

It used to be that while traveling, one of the common experiences was the sharing of computer cables with fellow journeyers who were unfortunate enough to have forgotten or lost a small but critical cord that would allow us to keep our mobile phones, tablet computers or laptops alive.

(I know whereof I speak. Years ago I boarded a flight from Newark to Shanghai and discovered that I'd left my MacBook charger at home. For several days I was like Blanche DuBois, depending on the kindness of strangers, until we could track down a replacement charger in Shanghai. This was no small thing - this was so long ago that there were no Apple Stores in China. But I digress…)

These used to be moments that would reinforce the commonality and camaraderie of traveling. We were all in it together, and we could help each other out.

But no longer, apparently. Fast Company has a piece suggesting that it now is dangerous to accept or extend these small but meaningful kindnesses.

"Even though every Apple gadget that requires a Lightning cable comes with one, many of us lose them, replace them, or buy extras," the story says. "Many times we also forget our cables at home, leading us to ask a friend - or even a stranger - if we can borrow one to revive a dead phone. This is never more evident than at an airport or a major conference. You’re sure to run into someone asking if they have a spare Lightning cable they can use for a moment.

"But from now on, asking a stranger to borrow a Lightning cable, or accepting an offer by a stranger to give you one, is the last thing you’ll want to do if you’re scrupulous about protecting your data. That’s because a hacker has created the first Lightning cable that, when plugged into your Mac or PC, will allow someone to remotely take over your computer. Worse, this hacked Lightning cable, called the O.MG Cable, isn’t a bespoke one-off. It’s being mass-produced in factories so anyone can buy and use them to target your data."

And, "the O.MG Cable also contains a built-in wireless hotspot. This allows attackers to remotely run commands on the Mac or Windows PC the cable is plugged into, which allows them to do, well, pretty much whatever they want—including reading or even deleting your data."

As a Mac user who travels with numerous Lightning cables, I'm glad to have read this story … which is part of the reason I'm sharing it with you. It is Eye-Opening, and certainly will affect my behavior going forward.

But I'm a little sad about how such technological "advances" erode the pleasantries of a civilized society. We can't even be nice to each other anymore because of the small and nagging fears that we are putting ourselves at risk.

It is sort of like hitchhiking. When I was young, I used to hitchhike from school to work every afternoon, and sometimes from work to home. I got lots of rides, had lots of great conversations, and got places faster than I would have otherwise. As I got older, I'd pick up hitchhikers.

(Once, just a couple of weeks after I graduated from a private Catholic prep school, I got picked up by a group of Jehovah's Witnesses who were out proselytizing … and among them was a guy with whom I'd gone through a dozen years of Catholic school, but whom in just a few short weeks had not only discovered a new faith, but had decided to evangelize on its behalf. Talk about a fascinating conversation. But again, I digress…)

You can't do that anymore. I'd never pick up a hitchhiker, and I'd be appalled if I found out my kids ever had hitched. The world has changed, and such things just aren't safe anymore.

You can't even share your computer cables. Fast Company writes that it is "important to note that Lightning cables aren’t the only kind open to this type of manipulation. In theory, hackers can now create a USB-C or MicroUSB cable incorporating a dangerous Wi-Fi connection. It just so happens that the first cable built to do this was a Lightning cable. But it surely won’t be the last."
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