It has taken a few years, but USB Type-C is finally becoming common on new computers, smartphones, and tablets. This connector comes with a lot of benefits like higher power capacity and a reversible design, but there’s also greater potential for abuse and damage to your devices. That’s why the USB-IF, a trade group that promotes and oversees the USB standard, has launched a USB-C authentication program.
The USB-IF originally announced the authentication program in 2016, but it’s taken all this time to get ready for launch. Starting today, hardware makers can take advantage of the optional program to verify USB Type-C hardware when you plug it in. The program utilizes cryptographic keys to authenticate chargers and cables using the USB Type-C standard. If you have a device that requires such accessories, it could simply refuse to recognize connections from uncertified cables. Alternatively, a device could charge on uncertified cables but block data access.
The USB Type-C Authentication Program is supposed to address two potential issues with Type-C hardware. First, it’s possible to damage your devices with faulty cables. This is something about which early adopters of Type-C had to be cautious. To be certified, cables and chargers would need to properly implement the USB Power Delivery spec. Using the authentication framework, device makers could block uncertified cables under the assumption they may harm your devices.
The other selling point of USB-C authentication is security. Implementing the authentication program at the hardware level could protect users from malicious firmware hiding on USB devices. The authentication keys would prove a USB-C device is safe, allowing your computer or phone to connect.
The USB-IF might have the best of intentions here, but the program could cause some headaches for consumers. If you buy with a computer or phone that uses the USB Type-C authentication scheme, you could end up returning a lot of uncertified Type-C accessories and cables because they won’t work with your hardware. Also, an OEM could conceivably use the program like DRM to force you to purchase specific accessories. The added cost of getting accessories certified could also mean higher prices for consumers.
No companies have officially announced support for the USB Type-C Authentication Program, but it’s only a matter of time. We’ll have to wait and see how restrictive the implementations are, but this certainly gives Apple an opening to make the next iPhone Type-C and force you to purchase its expensive first-party cables.
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