Credit: ShutterstockOne of the most iconic scenes from Office Space depicts three grown men stealing a printer from work, driving out to a field, and beating it with a baseball bat. We’re pretty sure that almost everyone who’s had to rely on uncooperative technology found that scene oddly cathartic. But a former business student from The College of St. Rose went a bit too far by destroying 66 computers (and other devices) with a “USB Killer” in February.
Destroying those devices with a baseball bat might have been more satisfying, but the USB Killer was almost certainly more efficient. The device works by telling a connected system to rapidly charge and discharge its on-board capacitors until the electrical system is fried. USB Killer devices aren’t that hard to find either, with a quick search returning sites devoted to the devices as well as kits available on Amazon. They’re cheap, too.
The student in question is Vishwanath Akuthota. He graduated from the college in Albany, New York back in 2017. Yet, according to the U.S. Department of Justice (DoJ), Akuthota “admitted that he intentionally destroyed the computers and recorded himself doing so using his iPhone, including making statements such as ‘I’m going to kill this guy’ before inserting the USB Killer into a computer’s USB port.” The video hasn’t been published.
Akuthota also recognized that he caused more than $58,000 in damage to The College of St. Rose and has agreed to pay back that amount to the school. (And here we thought people only had to pay that kind of money for their alma mater when their student loans come due.) The DoJ said he “faces up to 10 years in prison, a fine of up to $250,000 and a term of post-imprisonment supervised release of up to 3 years” after sentencing.
This incident shows just how much damage someone could inflict with an unassuming thumb drive–or pretty much anything that can be plugged into a system. Hackers can use modified USB cables to remotely compromise target devices, break into otherwise secure devices via Thunderbolt and even modify power cables to enable data collection. It won’t be long until security-conscious people become paranoid of every cable they encounter.
Akuthota serves as a cautionary tale, however, especially if he’s given the maximum sentence (he probably won’t be–most people aren’t–but it’s always a possibility). We can relate to wanting to destroy a bunch of gadgets and gizmos. But it’s probably best to just re-watch the scene from Office Space instead of actually breaking anything. Renting the film costs about $4 from most streaming platforms; that’s far less than $58,000.