We’ve all been there: you’re in the middle of a long day of travel, perhaps on a layover between flights, and you glance down at your phone: 12% battery. In a panic, you look for the nearest outlet, and are relieved to find a USB charging station only a few feet away. “Perfect!” you think, pulling out your charging cord. What you don’t know is that by plugging your phone into a USB charging station, you are opening yourself up to cyber threats, malware, and hacking, according to Business Insider.
How can using USB Charging Ports Be Dangerous?
In early November, the LA district attorney’s office put out a Tweet warning travelers to “avoid using public USB charging stations at airports and other locations” due to a recent rise in “juice jacking” schemes that aim to steal a person’s identity through USB data transfer while they are charging their phones. While uncommon, it is possible to hack the hardware of a USB outlet in order to siphon information from a charging phone. This is especially concerning for small business owners, who often keep confidential business data and financial accounts for their business on their mobile phones.
How to Avoid the Juice Jacking Scheme
The best way to avoid falling prey to this “juice jacking” scheme is to avoid using USB charging stations. Regular AC wall outlets are safe to use in the airport, as they are not capable of transferring data. If you do happen to plug into a USB outlet and are asked if you would like your phone to “Trust this Device,” do not give it permission to do so and unplug immediately, as this is a sign that the USB cable is doing more than simply charging your phone.
If you know you will likely need to charge your phone during a layover or before or after your flights, consider bringing your own portable charging block or investing in a suitcase that has a built-in power supply for your phone. You can also purchase specific “charge-only” USB cables to prevent data from entering or leaving your device, which disable the data pin in your regular USB charging cables to a similar end.
While this “juice jacking” scheme affecting travelers in airports is concerning, the DA’s office does note that it is unlikely that you will be targeted, and it is entirely preventable if you carry the right equipment and avoid using USB charging stations. Phew! We hope that all of your travels, for business and pleasure, are safe and enjoyable.