Sunday, December 04, 2011

Burning phones and flaming printers

Some consumers often have the burning desire to get the latest device, whether it's the newly released Apple iPhone or a state-of-the-art network printer. But some have found the hottest device on the market is a little too hot, literally.

Network printer fire risk

Researchers in the United States have discovered a security flaw that could enable hackers to take over network connected Hewlett Packard LaserJet printers enabling them to steal data and even issue commands that could cause it to overheat or catch fire.

The findings were first published by MSNBC in a report that claimed millions of businesses, consumers and even government agencies were at risk from a new breed of computer security flaws. According to the report, weaknesses lie in the authentication process for updating the firmware. The system can apparently be fooled to accept modified firmware from anyone with access to the device.

HP have called the reporting as "sensational and inaccurate" but admits it has discovered a flaw. However the company says it has yet to receive any customer complaints regarding their printers being hacked or bursting into flames. In addition HP say their printers have fail-safe mechanism that will prevent extreme overheating of components or a fire [Digital Journal].

Burning smartphones

But there are other reports that confirm owners of some smartphones are having bigger issues. Techradar reported that the owner of a Samsung Galaxy S" received burns after the phone caught fire in his pocket.

The report came just days after an iPhone 4 handset had to be 'extinguished' on an aeroplane. The smartphone handset is said to have glowed red and emitted a "significant amount" of dense smoke after the Regional Express flight from Lismore in Australia landed in Sydney. Flight attendants extinguished the fire according to reports [Mirror].

Brazilian news reports also highlighted another apparent problem with someone's iPhone which is said to have exploded while charging. Apple did not immediately respond to the Brazilian reports, though a Apple spokeswoman said the company was looking forward to working with the investigators concerning the incident aboard the Regional Express flight [SMH / Gadget Helpline].


High powered Lithium batteries do pose a fire risk if shorted or even overcharged, though internal circuitry should prevent such an occurrence. The NERC [Natural Environment Research Council] has published a document which advises on several dangers posed by Lithium batteries [PDF].

"There are several types of lithium batteries but they are all high energy power sources and all are potentially hazardous," the NERC says. "The risks are not only theoretical; there have been several potentially serious incidents involving these types of batteries."

While acknowledging there was only "a small risk of serious malfunction", the NERC advises that given a number of previous recalls, the risks should not be taken lightly.

It says that as well as following the manufacturer's recommendations when using electrical equipment containing lithium batteries, users should also follow a number of other steps. In particular batteries should not be exposed to high temperatures including direct sunlight and it is advised that rechargeable lithium batteries should not be left unattended while recharging.

tvnewswatch, London, UK

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