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This USB cable can kill your Linux laptop if it’s stolen while you’re using it

Think of it as an upgraded Kensington lock.

usb killswitch
Image: Michael Altfield

A Linux Sysadmin has created a “dead man’s switch” for Linux laptops, using some cheap USB components and a little bit of clever scripting. The BusKill cable can be set to do things like shut down the laptop or even wipe it completely once the connection is broken.

That’s a pretty nifty trick to keep your important data safe if you’re often using your laptop in public spaces. Unfortunately, there’s no similar setup for MacBooks or Windows laptops (yet), so the impact of this is fairly low.

This USB cable works as a physical kill-switch for your Linux laptop

There’s any number of “dead man’s switch” enabled things in the world, from forklift trucks to chainsaws, but that important feature is usually saved for things that could cause physical harm. What about those things that could cause harm to your finances, like the data stored on your laptop?

That’s something the Michael Altfield thought about, a Linux Sysadmin who envisioned a scenario where someone steals your laptop just after you’ve logged into your bank account. I mean, they could do untold damage to your finances while you’re logged in, right?

The BusKill cable limits that type of attack by using a Linux script to check to see if a USB drive is plugged in. If it thinks it isn’t, the scripts then trigger other actions, such as wiping data or shutting down the laptop. Now the thief can’t access anything.

It’s pretty simple to put together:

  • You’ll need a (preferably metal) USB drive with a tough keyring hole, a 1m USB cable, a magnetic USB breakaway for the laptop end, and a secure carabiner to clip on your belt
  • Then you need to set up some scripts on your laptop, including finding out the identifier of that USB drive, and what you want the Linux OS to do when it no longer detects the drive
  • Connect the BusKill cable to a USB port on your laptop at one end, and to your belt on the other
  • That’s it

Now when an opportunistic snatch thief runs off with your laptop, at least you know they won’t be able to drain your bank account or sell off the data you have stored.

What do you think? Is this something that you’d use on your laptop? Let us know down below in the comments or carry the discussion over to our Twitter or Facebook.

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