Why do cellphones and speakers keep blowing up?


A selection of AA batteries

Lithium-ion (LI) batteries have become a major part of daily life in the last decade. They’re in your camera, your phone, your computer, and maybe even in your car. There are tremendous advantages to LI batteries over other types of batteries; they are much lighter weight and a lower rate of energy loss, but there’s a fine line that has to be walked to keep the more energetic LI composition safe.

A battery is a chemical reaction that you can keep in your pocket. LI batteries use a lithium electrolyte to create the chemical reaction that allows you to power your phone; lithium salt gel is wrapped in a thin, non-reactive envelope and connected to a positive and a negative electrodes which are separated so they can’t touch. When phone batteries explode it’s because one way or another the lithium electrolyte gel has come into contact with other metals in your phone and caused a reaction.

Sometimes this contact is caused by “thermal runaway” – overheating that causes the volatile electrolyte to continue reacting even if it isn’t connected to a power source. Thermal runaway can be caused by overcharging (as a result of the battery’s self-limiting computer failing) or from leaving it in a very hot location. As electricity causes a reaction inside your phone the Lithium batteries warm up and as they warm they expand. Normally this isn’t a problem – manufacturers are aware of heat causing expansion and leave space inside your phone for that expansion to occur safely and include limits to prevent anything that might cause a thermal reaction (like including a battery computer to prevent it from overcharging). When thermal runaway happens the battery expands past the intended limits and cracks its casing, reacts to other parts of your phone, and can catch on fire if it expands out enough to come into contact with air.

See a video of it happening: This person removed the safeguards that prevent a phone battery from overcharging.

Something similar but much faster can happen as a result of a short in the battery. Shorts in the battery can be caused by a leak in the envelope holding the electrolyte gel or by a conductive material accidentally connecting the positive and negative electrodes. Shorts can be caused by mechanical damage (a puncture or tear in the electrolyte envelope) if it causes the electrolyte gel to leak.

See a video of it happening: This person created a short circuit by connecting the negative and positive electrodes on a small battery.

If you have a device with LI batteries, whether it’s a cell phone or a hoverboard, make sure to store it at appropriate temperatures, avoid overcharging it, and take precautions to avoid puncturing or significantly cracking the casing. LI battery explosions are incredibly uncommon, which is why they dominate the news cycle when they do happen. Statistically these batteries are very safe and have a very low failure rate but there are risks that arise as a result of the continuing pursuit of a long-lasting, light-weight battery.

Ransomware Shows the Importance of Updating Software

People are frequently frustrated by the need to update software. “I paid for Adobe already” or “I bought a Microsoft license years ago, why do I need to pay again for a new one” is a refrain we hear frequently. Ransomware is the perfect example of why using up-to-date software is vital. It perfectly illustrates the risks of relying exclusively on your antivirus for security.

Ransomware can take advantage of macros in outdated versions of programs to encrypt all the files on your computer. It can even encrypt your entire network if your computer is connected to a network. In particular Locky Ransomware is an example that attacks outdated copies of Microsoft Word. It appears as a Word Document in an email, posing as an invoice. Once the document is opened installs malware on your computer if macros are enabled. If macros aren’t enabled the ransomware asks you to enable macros. Here are the simple steps you can take to prevent yourself from being infected:

  • 1 – Don’t open email attachments from people you don’t know. Locky Ransomware poses as an invoice from a vendor. Make sure you are only opening files from companies you work with.
  • 2 – Don’t follow instructions from strangers. Locky Ransomware only works if macros are enabled. If macros aren’t enabled the ransomware asks you to change your settings. If an attachment from a stranger requires you to update or change your settings it is almost certainly going to be to your detriment.
  • 3 – Don’t use outdated software. You should never use software that is outside of the manufacturer support period (for example, Microsoft Office 1997 or Windows XP). Manufacturer support means there are patches and fixes still being written for the software while unsupported software is vulnerable to attack and will not be fixed or patched by the manufacturer.
  • 4 – Keep an up-to-date antivirus. Even though antivirus software won’t catch everything it’s much safer to have an antivirus than to have no protection at all.

If you aren’t sure if your Microsoft Office is up-to-date or if you need an antivirus license for your individual desktop or for an office-wide network please give us a call.

If you think you might have been infected with Ransomware or any other viruses or malicious software please also give us a call and we will do what we can to save your data and protect you in the future.

Reach out to us a (818)957-5647 or through our contact page.