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Former student destroys $58,000 worth of computers at college using USB Killer device

By midian182 · 35 replies
Apr 19, 2019
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  1. On February 14, 27-year-old Vishwanath Akuthota, an Indian national living in the US on a student visa, annihilated 59 Windows PCs, seven Apple computers, and several digital monitors and podiums that feature USB ports.

    When plugged into a device, the USB killer starts collecting power from the source in its capacitors until it reaches a high voltage and then it discharges that back into the host device. This voltage overloads and destroys the computer’s USB port and electrical systems. The sticks can be easily ordered online or even created at home using various electrical parts. New cryptographic authentication protocol in USB-C is supposed to help prevent against this kind of attack however there are claims that with the proper devices, this protocol can still be bypassed.

    According to a press release, Akuthota recorded himself destroying some of the computers on his iPhone, which probably explains why he pleaded guilty. He made statements such as “I’m going to kill this guy” before inserting the USB Killer.

    Akuthota caused $51,109 worth of equipment damages, and employee time for investigating and replacing the destroyed hardware came to $7,362. He has agreed to pay the full amount back to the college as part of his guilty plea.

    Akuthota graduated from the College of Saint Rose with a master’s degree in Business back in 2017. His motivations for the attack are still unclear, though it’s thought he could have a grudge against someone at the college—judging from his recordings

    Sentencing is set to take place on August 12. Akuthota faces ten years in prison, a $250,000 fine, and three years of post-prison supervision.

    Permalink to story.

  2. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 2,193   +1,617

    Yea, he gets a jail sentence but robo-call scam centers got a slap on the wrist...
    James00007 and SalaSSin like this.
  3. failquail

    failquail TS Enthusiast Posts: 25   +17

    "the USB killer sends a command to the computer’s capacitors"

    Erm... What? what a nonsense sentence.

    These devices work by charging up high voltage capacitors on the USB killer device itself then sending a massive shock to the target device, burning out the hardware. No 'commands' are sent...
  4. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,874   +1,526

    BS! Not possible and there's no path to any capacitor. Ignorance abounds :poop:
    @failquail is absolutely correct (y) (Y):)
    Forebode likes this.
  5. mbrowne5061

    mbrowne5061 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,204   +665

    Its Rob, what did you expect? Most of his articles seem to have at least a few technical inaccuracies at best, or if it is robot, straight up fear-mongering.
    takemaru likes this.
  6. kevbev89

    kevbev89 TS Maniac Posts: 186   +167

    So $60,000 in damages amounts to potential 10 years in prison, but the crap our politicians do only costs them a "probation" period?????
  7. Julio Franco

    Julio Franco TechSpot Editor Posts: 8,244   +1,268

    Thanks for the correction, story has been edited.
    wiyosaya likes this.
  8. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,377   +3,770

    Just think what could have happened if this clown had gotten into a more prestigious school or worse yet, in the military as a command headquarters. No argument about the misdeeds of others going with little to no punishment but this kind of punishment should be enacted across the board, ESPECIALLY against the scammers, robo-callers, the whole nine yards. Our society depends upon computers so much that laws are now being enacted to make it mandatory to use them (try to fight "direct deposit" where you work) and it becomes punitive if you refuse. I think the only thing the court missed was to also impose restitution for the loss and deport him after he serves his sentence with full notification to his home government.
    TempleOrion likes this.
  9. QuantumPhysics

    QuantumPhysics TS Evangelist Posts: 1,234   +894

    Robo Calling doesn't maliciously destroy computers.
    lazer and wiyosaya like this.
  10. QuantumPhysics

    QuantumPhysics TS Evangelist Posts: 1,234   +894

    Throw the book at him.

    Anyone who would do this is sick and deserves time in the booty house.
    wiyosaya likes this.
  11. jobeard

    jobeard TS Ambassador Posts: 12,874   +1,526

    https://usbkill.com/ says:
    The WiKi reads similarly. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/USB_Killer

    The USB Killer is shockingly simple in its operation. As soon as you plug it in, a DC-to-DC converter starts drawing power from the host system and storing electricity in its bank of capacitors (the square-shaped components). When the capacitors reach a potential of -220V, the device dumps all of that electricity into the USB data lines, most likely frying whatever is on the other end. If the host doesn't just roll over and die, the USB stick does the charge-discharge process again and again until it sizzles.
    TempleOrion and wiyosaya like this.
  12. Chamoody1

    Chamoody1 TS Rookie

  13. kevbev89

    kevbev89 TS Maniac Posts: 186   +167

    I would be so happy when robo-callers and scammers get the stick. I don't even know why I have a phone number at this point anymore.
    Mr Majestyk likes this.
  14. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,950   +2,267

    Sounds right.

    The formula for energy storage in a capacitor is 1/2*C*V^2. http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu/hbase/electric/capeng2.html

    DC-to-DC converters that can multiply voltage like that are pretty common these days. It does not really matter that there is so little energy in the 5V usb lines, what matters is that the energy is accumulated over time in the capacitor - and the voltage. Twice as much voltage gives four times the energy storage.

    IMO, it is quite a commentary on modern society that such things even exist. As I see it, there is no legitimate use for them; they are completely destructive in nature.
    TempleOrion likes this.
  15. WarPigs01

    WarPigs01 TS Rookie

    What did the guy he was angry at do to him? I've faced bullying, but I've never physically damaged property before.

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 1,717   +804

    Prison? Really? If these were critical systems to our infrastructure or lives were at risk I could understand that, but to school computers prison seems excessive. He certainly should have to pay for the damage and then some but I don't think clogging our prisons full of people who commit non-violent crimes is useful.
  17. WarPigs01

    WarPigs01 TS Rookie

    The main issue I have with prison is, we are paying to house and feed people into expensive tiny square concrete cubicles. I don't mind that they are being punished, but I want my money that goes to them to be used in a way to provides a Return of Investment: Bring something similar to the chain gangs back, but make it as an elective, and market it to the prisoners as a "Privilege:" Because working on something productive is 10x better than languishing in a cell doing nothing. That is why criminals come out even worse than before, because they've gone mad with boredom. Also, we can market it as an "Opportunity" to learn some craftsman/trade skills, that way at least we're releasing people who can now function somewhat in society. (The definition of a criminal is an individual who cannot function in normal society).
    James00007 and TempleOrion like this.
  18. Forebode

    Forebode TS Booster Posts: 191   +44

    Take the usb drive out of the equation if you want to look at why there should be prison or much heftier fine. Replace usbdrive with baseball bat. If someone wrecked computers with a baseball bat, while no one else was in the rooms, but offered to pay for all the damage, do you still believe there shouldn't be prison or financial penalty?

    That's the problem with penalties. People think if you physically didn't do something aggressively, your punishment should be less. In reality it should be the result that is the main factor.
  19. TheBigFatClown

    TheBigFatClown TS Evangelist Posts: 744   +274

    I'm glad I read this. I did not know this was possible. One question I have about this destructive act. Is it immediately notice that the PC is damaged? Does being powered off or on at the time make any difference?

    Now I know not to let anyone I don't fully trust to plug a USB drive into one of my PCs.

    Aren't there public kiosks that will accept USB thumb drives as well for processing pictures? I wonder if they have any protection against these attacks.
    TempleOrion likes this.
  20. Sergey Novikov

    Sergey Novikov TS Member Posts: 18   +10

    There are a lot of *****s in this world
  21. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 14,914   +3,977

    I really wish people who post here had some idea what they were talking about. All of the things you're talking about are already in play at all levels of our current prison system.


    Fayette state prison license plate production provides job, 'life skills' to inmates. At Fayette state prison, about 120 inmates work nearly year-round to producePennsylvania License plates. ... Each state correctional institution has its own specialty, where they produce everything from soap to eye glasses.Mar 6, 2012


    As far as needing a definition of "criminal:, how about if we consult Merriam-Webster?


    That's about as much research as your juvenile, uninformed rant, merits. Welcome to Techspot.
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2019
    TempleOrion, wiyosaya and PEnnn like this.
  22. CinnabarVolcano

    CinnabarVolcano TS Rookie

    Try examining the big picture here: putting nonviolent offenders in prison turns them into bitter, resentful people who then become violent offenders. This guy clearly already has a chip on his shoulder, or some undiagnosed psychiatric or personality disorder. You really think putting him in prison for 10 years is going to reform him? And as far as for-profit prisons go, imprisoning people is expensive, and making profits off their labor is slavery. The entire justice system in this country relies on imprisoning the maximum number of people possible, and many of them are nonviolent offenders who shouldn't be there.

    We need institutional justice system and prison reform. Putting another ******* in prison for a petty crime isn't getting us any closer to that reform. But then again, the U.S. is doomed at this point anyway; that is baked in the cake. It's only a question of when the **** will hit the fan now.
    TempleOrion likes this.
  23. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 14,914   +3,977

    As a matter of fact, there is a high level of violence in the crime this person committed. Just because he's an imploding scumbag, who takes out his little tantrums on other people's property, doesn't (IMHO), mean he's worth investing time in effort in talking to him about his "feelings". Only so much cam be accomplished with "talk therapy"

    In the mean time, get him out of our faces. Put him in prison, and let him grow to understand what true violence really his. Hey, if you want to give him a "fighting chance", give him one of his little USB sticks to defend himself against the other inmates.

    There's really no such thing as a victimless crime gong on here. All the people who needed those computers to continue their studies are his victims. How have they managed to control themselves? What about their "feelings". How come they haven't let their "anxieties", loose on the rest of the world?

    The jerk is a narcissistic Equus asinus, on some fantasy cyber power trip. A couple of years in captivity will jog him back to the rest of the world's physical reality.

    I will say that I think private prisons do offer a frightening opportunity for abuse.

    At the other end of the spectrum, congress had to pass a prison reform act a couple of decades ago, to try and move past the stigma and joke of "club fed".

    But time marches on, and of all people Trump, signed a prison reform act last years which encompasses most of your concerns. Which means, you post isn't exactly new business either: https://www.congress.gov/bill/115th-congress/house-bill/3356

    This is anti crime legislation which Bill Clinton passed in 1994> https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-36020717
    Last edited: Apr 20, 2019
  24. comnut

    comnut TS Rookie

    Dunno about USA, But a simple device will stop them.. its called a 'call blocking phone'..

    It includes a good quality DECT phone as well
  25. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Evangelist Posts: 3,950   +2,267

    @captaincranky I'm right there with you on this. Having caused approximately $58,000 in damage, I agree that there is substantial violence in this. That USB stick is the equivalent of a computer baseball bat.

    I also agree that other students are victims. IMO, it makes the crime far worse that these are at a college and they are intended for use by other students.

    IMO, this guy needs a hard lesson; otherwise, he may be out there doing it again at any number of places that have computers for what amounts to public use.

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