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Hackers Could Make a MacBook's Battery Explode

By - Source: Tom's Hardware US | B 60 comments

This could be a problem with the new MacBooks' non-removable battery.

Apple security expert and hacker Charlie Miller has exposed a very frightening security flaw that potentially affects all models of MacBooks, including the Pro and Air lines.

Miller found that MacBooks share a common password that's required to gain access to the controller chip that's responsible for the battery. A hacker could hijack the firmware to render a lithium-ion battery useless so it no longer holds a charge – or even worse, turn off the temperature management to make it potentially explode.

MacBook batteries, and nearly all other laptop batteries, usually have a failsafe feature in them to prevent overheating, but anything is possible as we've seen in past reports of battery explosions.

Another scary possibility is that the battery firmware could become home to malware that would persist even with full hardware wipes or replacements. Battery removal isn't a common way to troubleshoot malware.

“You could put a whole hard drive in, reinstall the software, flash the BIOS, and every time it would reattack and screw you over. There would be no way to eradicate or detect it other than removing the battery,” Miller told Forbes.

In order to gain access to the battery firmware, however, a hacker would first need to infiltrate Mac OS X to gain access.

Miller will detail his findings and MacBook battery experiments (he's already bricked seven batteries in his tests) at the Black Hat conference in August. There he'll also release a tool he made, called Caulkgun, that will randomize the password for the battery controller. Of course, the changing of password will also lock out Apple's future updates to the firmware – so really, the best case scenario would be for Apple to come up with a better solution.

“These batteries just aren’t designed with the idea that people will mess with them,” Miller says. “What I’m showing is that it’s possible to use them to do something really bad.”

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Top Comments
  • 46 Hide
    phishy714 , July 26, 2011 3:12 PM
    In more recent news, hacker Charlie Miller has been found dead in a dark alley behind his home. Police believe it has something to do with him finding a flaw with Apple's design. Steve Jobs has been brought in for questioning.
  • 34 Hide
    Anonymous , July 26, 2011 3:47 PM
    They"re charging it wrong!
  • 34 Hide
    Anonymous , July 26, 2011 3:43 PM
    That's Not A Flaw... Its A Feature... You Fools
Other Comments
    Display all 60 comments.
  • 29 Hide
    matt314 , July 26, 2011 3:10 PM
    1234567890 of course
  • 46 Hide
    phishy714 , July 26, 2011 3:12 PM
    In more recent news, hacker Charlie Miller has been found dead in a dark alley behind his home. Police believe it has something to do with him finding a flaw with Apple's design. Steve Jobs has been brought in for questioning.
  • 32 Hide
    house70 , July 26, 2011 3:15 PM
    "In order to gain access to the battery firmware, however, a hacker would first need to infiltrate Mac OS X to gain access."

    Like that's hard...
  • 29 Hide
    captaincharisma , July 26, 2011 3:16 PM
    get ready apple to get tons of orders for macbook's from al qaeda
  • 23 Hide
    the_krasno , July 26, 2011 3:17 PM
    According to XKCD an overclocked notebook battery with a full charge has the same explosion energy as a hand grenade. The more you know.
  • 13 Hide
    Anonymous , July 26, 2011 3:20 PM
    HMM...I wonder if hp does something like this to kill batteries so they barely last a year.

  • 23 Hide
    hardcore_gamer , July 26, 2011 3:25 PM
    Is there any password to make Job's head explode ?
  • 21 Hide
    gnookergi , July 26, 2011 3:29 PM
    Knowing Apple, the PW is: SJisGoD1955
  • 1 Hide
    coldmast , July 26, 2011 3:42 PM
    I'm confused, is the controller chip on the battery or the laptop?
  • 34 Hide
    Anonymous , July 26, 2011 3:43 PM
    That's Not A Flaw... Its A Feature... You Fools
  • 34 Hide
    Anonymous , July 26, 2011 3:47 PM
    They"re charging it wrong!
  • 19 Hide
    alikum , July 26, 2011 3:48 PM
    You're using it wrong
  • 22 Hide
    sunflier , July 26, 2011 3:57 PM
    Quote:
    “You could put a whole hard drive in, reinstall the software, flash the BIOS, and every time it would reattack and screw you over.

    You could buy over-priced Apple devices, wait a year and pay more for a cheap upgrade, and then every two years you are persuaded to buy newer over-priced Apple devices and every time screw you over.

    Yup, that sounds like the Apple norm.
  • 26 Hide
    Anomalyx , July 26, 2011 3:59 PM
    Gotta love how the title of the article makes it sound like Apple has no fault. Should read more like "Apple design flaw can cause batteries to explode". That's just poor engineering on Apple's part. But then again, it's par for the course.
  • -6 Hide
    bennaye , July 26, 2011 4:03 PM
    Lol.

    Try saying "It just works" in my face after your face has been blown off from fellating the keyboard and the virtual penis of steve. And in the case that you mistook the explosion as another "feature", I'll make facial contortions in the hope that you'll eventually realise (after all the euphoria of finding a new feature is gone and you're left with blinding pain) that what I can do with my face, you can't. If other parts of your body were blown off, then I will adjust my mocking accordingly.
  • 14 Hide
    Jerky_san , July 26, 2011 4:03 PM
    Puts a new meaning to an app.. iexplode
  • 7 Hide
    dragonic2020 , July 26, 2011 4:09 PM
  • 6 Hide
    mchuf , July 26, 2011 4:15 PM
    hardcore_gamerIs there any password to make Job's head explode ?

    Apple_II_FTW!
  • 12 Hide
    DonnieK , July 26, 2011 4:24 PM
    Miller has done a great job. Exposing issues like this with products on the market makes the next generation that much stronger. Bravo.
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