April 6, 2018

Think twice before using public phone charging stations

By Team Ventev Topic: Tech Specs

Travelers are always on the hunt for outlets, especially at airports. Layovers and downtime are a great chance to top off your devices with a fresh charge.

But, if you’re charging up at one of the public kiosks planted in terminals and waiting areas, you could fall victim to hackers looking to steal your information.

Why you should beware of public phone charging stations

Public charging kiosks, like those at the airport, are susceptible to a type of tampering called juice jacking, in which hackers place a small computer inside the kiosk that gives them access to your phone. The hack is relatively simple and takes advantage of how USB ports work. The cables and ports we use to charge our phone also transfer data. These ports are usually used to download music or movies from your computer to your phone and vice versa. Hackers can read your data or drop malware on your phone using that connection.

Compromising a phone takes less than a minute, and you won’t even know it’s happening. Once done, the bad guys can download photos, contacts, email, browser history, and financial information. And in some cases, hackers can maintain access to your phone long after you disconnect.

That said, reports of juice jacking have been few and far between. For the most part, it’s a concern for people who have proprietary information on their device. For example, the National Security Agency recommends employees with smartphones carry around their own wall charger to ensure security.

But you don’t need NSA-level secrets to be a victim, and you don’t necessarily need to be a high-value target.

How to keep your phone safe from juice jacking:

So what can you do to prevent yourself from becoming a victim? Follow these simple tips:

  • Carry a portable power pack. This is the most convenient and safe option. You won’t have to camp out near a wall outlet, so you can grab a bite to eat, hang out at the gate, or even board the plane while replenishing your battery.
  • Bring your own charger and plug directly into a wall outlet. This is your next-best option after portable power. You’ll be anchored to one spot for as long as it takes your phone to charge, but your data won’t be at risk.
  • If a public kiosk is your only option or last resort, make sure you lock your phone with a PIN or fingerprint, then turn your phone off for the entire time you’re charging. For most phones, turning on the lock feature will prevent data transfer unless you enter the PIN or unlock the phone with your fingerprint.

The ways in which hackers can cause havoc are numerous, but a few simple precautions can keep you from exposing yourself to risks you cannot foresee.

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