We’ve all been there. You’re out and about when you realize the battery on your mobile device is almost empty. You don’t have a charger with you, but wait! . . . You spy a free charging station with built-in USB chargers. Perfect! Or is it?
Before you plug in, stop and take a minute to consider. This is your tablet or smartphone, full of your photos, contacts, messages, personal data, and maybe even passwords. Is it safe to connect a random cable directly into your device’s data port? Probably not, since mobile charging stations could become direct lines from identity thieves to your data.
(Hi)jacking Your Device
This kind of attack is called “juice jacking,” and it’s similar to credit card skimming. Thieves co-opt the public charging station with a malicious device that can install malware or steal data from your device or both.
The good news is that manufacturers are aware of this issue and are making the devices are more secure now. Apple devices running iOS 7 or later (current version is iOS 10.3) prompt you whether to “Trust This Computer?” whenever you plug your phone or tablet into a new computer or other device. If you tap “Don’t Trust,” whichever device you are connecting to will not be able to access the data or media files. Android phones have similar security and authentication features. If the “Trust This Computer?” dialog shows up when you connect to a charging station, that’s a big red flag! Disconnect immediately and warn others that something is not right with this charging station.
Don’t Get Jacked!
As with anything else, the safest way to handle a risk is to avoid it altogether. If you’re concerned about security, don’t use public charging ports.
If you just must have power to upload that selfie, you can buy USB cords that don’t have wires to transmit data, but it’s easiest and safest to just rely on your own plug-in charger. If you’re worried about finding electrical outlets, you could also invest in a portable USB battery pack (which will also come in handy if you have a power outage).
Whatever you decide to do, just be prepared and be aware, because data thieves are everywhere.