Well this isn’t funny anymore. It’s not just one model of Samsung, but now the newest iPhones are catching fire too.
So, people want to know… could your phone be hacked and weaponized to catch fire–possibly even at night while you’re sleeping? Here’s what we know…
At the end of August, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7’s started catching fire. They recalled the phones in September and blamed the battery. After one caught fire in an airplane, the FAA issued warnings not to fly with the model and things seemed to settle down for a couple weeks. Now, Samsung has announced that it was not the battery, after replacement phones started catching fire in October. Whether it’s the battery or the circuits, Samsung has posted an explicit warning for users to discontinue use and return the phones immediately.
Does this scenario sound familiar? It should, because iPhones have been catching fire since 2014, when an 8th grader’s iPhone 5c caught fire while in her back pocket. Apple took a different approach than Samsung and offered to charge her for an upgrade while publishing warnings not to sit on a phone that was designed to fit in your pocket. Victim to blame?
More recently, an iPhone 7, 7 Plus, and a pair of iPhone 6 Pluses caught fire, one of which was in a college student’s pocket, unplugged.
Two things are concerning right off the bat. First, neither Apple nor Samsung really know what the problem is–or aren’t telling us. Second, the circuit boards in all phones are controlled by a combination of hardware and software coding. Engineers will say it’s impossible for software to make the hardware malfunction or perform a different function, but the 1000’s of apps on the market that access the phone’s operating system and control the phone’s hardware (some with dangerous exploits) already turn that argument upside down. We’ve all experienced programs and usage that over-drives our phones until they become too hot to hold comfortably to the ear.
The other two explosion-prone technologies that have a hardware and software layer are the battery charge controller and the battery power delivery interface. Just speculating, but a remotely controlled malfunction in either one could result in an overload and subsequent rapid heating, explosion, or fire.
So the question is not “could a hacker hack a phone?” That would be the dumbest question ever and the next engineer who tells us it’s impossible should read the book Anti-Fragile and then talk to us in the morning. The word “phone explosion” is good hype for anyone looking to sensationalize an issue, entertaining even, because batteries and microcircuitry do heat up, catch fire, etc., but they don’t necessarily explode.
Could your phone be hacked and weaponized to catch fire at night while you’re sleeping after its software tells it you’ve been inactive for a few hours, snoozing away with your alarm set? Impossible they say? Tell that to Microsoft, Sony, BofA, US Government, Hillary, LinkedIn, Yahoo!, Snapchat, etc.
Let’s say you’re a competitor of Apple and that you don’t want your smartphone users to jump ship to Apple. Would you condone foreign or domestic sabotage against the iPhone 7 to dissuade your customers from switching to Apple–especially after you saw how effective that was a couple of years ago?
Of course, it sounds like a crazy idea, but then you consider things like the fact that the CEO of Wells Fargo thought it was okay to defraud account holders and shareholders by creating 2 million fake accounts. What if it were true? Would a huge corporation risk such an action that could backfire so horribly? If certain smartphone users do jump ship to Apple or Google, can they meet the increased demand? Will these new customers become faithful iPhone or Pixel users, or will they eventually go back to their original brand once the dust settles? It could take years to recover once faithful customers are lost to a competitor.
Again, this is all speculation, but I for one will be charging my phone in a $3 fireproof battery pouch so at the very least if something does happen at night, the house won’t burn down.