Avoid Public USB Chargers
The next time you are in public, think twice before plugging your smartphone into a USB charger. You may be in for a pretty nasty surprise if you do.
Public USB charging ports: they are convenient and can be a lifesaver when your phone is about to die, but you are probably better off not using them the next time you travel. Over the last year, private security professionals, as well as public officials, are raising concerns about the security risks of using public USB charging stations. This latest warning comes on the heels of an FTC 2016 advisory for consumers to stop using their smartphones in rental cars to prevent others from accessing their private information.
Hackers are now using public USB charging ports as a low-risk method of infecting the phones of unsuspecting users with malware and downloading data. The practice, also called ‘juice jacking,’ is one of the newest examples of how high-tech criminals are adapting new technology for malicious purposes.
The simplest version of the scam only requires a hacker to leave a portable USB charger plugged into an outlet in an area where people expect to be able to charge their phones, such as travel languages, hospitals, and libraries. More advanced approaches to ‘juice jacking’ may include infecting charging stations directly.
Frequent travelers who need to recharge their phones don’t have to be at the mercy of hackers. You can protect yourself by using the following tips.
How to Safeguard Your Phone While Charging
- Bring your own charger with you. Simple and 100 percent effective, you can stay charged without worrying about exposing your phone to a virus by using your own charger. But this is not the most convenient method. For those who don’t feel like lugging around their bulky charger, you can find smaller, more packable travel chargers.
- Use a power bank. Power banks were once overpriced and heavy, but today, you can find tiny auxiliary batteries to charge your electrical devices for less than 20 bucks. These smaller power banks can keep your phone topped up for days, but most can’t recharge laptops or larger devices. There are larger power banks that can recharge your computer, but both the cost and size are substantially more. It is also important to note that you can’t put power banks in your checked-in luggage, and any power banks larger than 100Wh requires permission from the airline to bring aboard.
- Power-only USB cord. A simple way to thwart hackers is by using a power-only USB cable. The only purpose of these cords is to recharge a device. This is a great solution to block infections or unauthorized data transfers, Power-only USB cables work by removing the pins necessary to transfer data while leaving the ones needed for charging. People who use this method, you will need to travel with at least two USB cables if they want to transfer data.
- Attach a data blocker to your USB cable. Small and convenient to carry, a data blocker is an adapter that slips over the end of your standard USB cable. Sometimes known as ‘USB condom,’ a data blocker provides the protection of a power-only USB cord but takes up almost no room at all. At under ten bucks, USB condoms are your cheapest option outside of taking a charger everywhere you go.
Traveling is already a hassle; there is no need to make it worse than it has to be by infecting your phone. Use one of these hints every time you travel, and keep your data safe.