Think Those Public Phone Charging Stations Are Safe? Think Again!

Think Those Public Phone Charging Stations Are Safe Think Again

You’ve just made it to your gate for a connecting flight and you’re panicking because your cell phone is at 5% power. You have a 3-hour flight ahead of you and are stressing about getting a charge up somewhere. 

But wait, there’s one of those public charging stations next to an empty seat with an open USB port. You’re completely relieved as you quickly plug your device in before anyone else takes the slot.

This seems like a story with a happy ending, but it could end up as a nightmare should that USB port be infected with malware. Your banking details could be stolen or your device could have all the data on it stolen.

Unfortunately, there is something called “Juice Jacking” that is a big problem in these types of public spaces.

What is Juice Jacking?

Juice Jacking is the term given to the tactic of gaining access to user devices by infecting a USB port in a public charging station. 

Hackers will either set up their own USB charging stations in public areas to lure people in or they will infect existing charging stations with malware. The unsuspecting victim plugs in their phone and is happy to get a charge, then goes about their business.

What they don’t know is that the hacker has gained control of their device and/or infected it with malware while they were plugged into the USB port.

USB is used to transmit data, so when you plug into one of these public USB charging stations, a hacker can gain a direct data access port to your device. They will use this to do things like:

  • Copy all the data from your phone
  • Clone your SIM card
  • Infect your device with spyware or other malware
  • Access apps on your devices (like a mobile wallet or banking app)

44% of surveyed mobile users said they feel anxious when separated from their smartphones.

Before you go on that next trip, review our tips for charging safely when in public.

Tips for Safe Device Charging

Travel With a Cell Phone Charging Battery

You can avoid having to rely on an open charging port if you bring your own battery. Many retailers sell cell phone charging batteries that will give you around 2 charges for a standard smartphone.

These lose their charge after several months, so you’ll want to purchase them as close as possible to when you anticipate needing them. You can find them at places like CVS and Walgreens in the neighborhood of $30.

Purchase a Charge-Only USB Cable

Standard USB cables that come with mobile devices will allow both a charge and a data connection. However, you can purchase charge-only USB cables that will block a data connection.

These are pretty inexpensive and they’re smart to carry with you when traveling away from home. This allows you to still take advantage of a public charging station when you need to without worrying about opening a data connection to your device that could leave you at risk. 

Only Charge Using the Electrical Adapter

Another way to protect your smartphone from Juice Jacking is to avoid charging through a USB port altogether. Instead, only charge your phone using the electrical A/C adapter that you use with an electrical outlet.

Many public charging stations will include both USB and electrical outlets.

Look for Outlets at Cafes & Restaurants

If you’re stuck at the airport on a layover with nothing but USB charging ports in sight, check out one of the cafes or restaurants. Many of them will have outlets near the tables that you can use for charging safely.

You can have a more relaxing seat and charge up securely at the same time. 

Put Your Device in Low Power Mode

You can conserve some of the battery life left on your device by putting it in low power mode. This helps prevent your battery charge from draining as quickly, which could be enough to allow you to wait to charge until you’re in a safe place to do so.

Enabling low power mode on your phone will do things like dim the screen brightness and reduce the time it takes your phone to go to sleep when it’s not in use. It will also run certain tasks less often, such as checking for incoming email or doing checks and refreshes in various apps.

Protect Your Mobile Devices from a Breach

Quantum PC Services works with residents and businesses in the Sturgeon Bay area. We can help you with smart and simple device security best practices to protect your phone and the sensitive data it contains.

Contact us today to learn more! Call 920-256-1214 or reach us online.