Juice Jacking: The Dangers of Public USB Charging Stations

Wednesday, March 31, 2021
   
Cell phone connected to a red charger

Three small words can hit you in the pit of your stomach when you're not expecting them.

No, not THOSE three words, but "Low phone battery."

When your phone is counting down the minutes until it shuts down and you're stuck without your charger, a public charging station can be a welcome sight. But experts warn that powering up your electronic device at free USB port charging stations – such as those found in airports, hotels, malls and other high traffic locations – could have unfortunate consequences. You could become a victim of "juice jacking," a new cyber-theft tactic.

According to the FCC, criminals are loading malware onto public USB charging stations to access electronic devices while they are charging. The federal agency describes how malware installed through a dirty USB port can lock a device or export personal data and passwords directly to the perpetrator. Criminals can use that information to access online accounts or sell it to other bad actors.

In some cases, criminals have left cables plugged in at the stations.

Don't let a free USB charge wind up draining your bank account. Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a juice jacking victim:

Avoid using a USB charging station. Use an AC power outlet instead.

Malware can only be transferred through the USB outlet, not through AC power. So plugging your phone into an electric outlet will keep your phone protected.

Bring AC, car chargers, and your own USB cables with you when traveling.

Throw a spare charger and cable in your car or purse, and you'll be less tempted to risk plugging into a charging station.

Carry a portable charger or external battery.

Not only will these keep you safe, but they'll also give you peace of mind knowing that a quick charge is in your pocket.

Consider carrying a charging-only cable, which prevents data from sending or receiving while charging, from a trusted supplier.

There are tons of options available on the Internet for less than $10, but, again, do your homework and make sure you're buying a product from a trust-worthy seller.

If you're out running errands and none of the above options are available, then it's best to let your battery run down and go a few hours unplugged from the world. Your FOMO might strike, but that's always better than a financial hacker.