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  • Writer's pictureTara Grey

Why Are Public USB Charging Stations Dangerous?

One of the most welcome sights when you’re traveling and low on phone battery power is a charging station. If you get to a gate at an airport and see people gathered in one area of seating, it’s typically around a public USB hub where they can plug in their devices.

For a majority of people, smartphones have become a necessity. 53% of Americans say that they have never been without their smartphone longer than 24 hours, and 74% say they feel uneasy about leaving their phone home when they go out.

The problem is that when you’re out for a while, the battery can drain. The thought of not being able to get an important text message or phone call or call out when you need to can be unsettling.

So, what’s wrong with using a public charging station? It’s there to help you out in a time of need, right?

It’s true that the purpose of these charging stations is positive – to charge up your devices. But, because they’re public, bad people can get to them and plant dangerous code that can end up infecting your device. Once infected, you’ll likely need to get it professionally serviced.

How Do Hackers Use USB Charging Stations Against You?

There are other things that a USB cord is used for besides charging your iPad or smartphone. Just think of all the things you plug into a USB port on your computer.

A flash drive (also called a thumb drive), which stores data is plugged into a USB port. When you do that, you can open it on your computer to access files on the flash drive or add files to it.

A wireless computer mouse can also use a small transmitter that plugs into the USB port. This is called a “dongle.” It helps the mouse connect to your computer wirelessly.

So, besides just transmitting a charge of electricity to replenish your battery, a USB connection can transmit data.

This is what hackers use against you.

Hackers can infect the USB ports in public charging stations with malicious malware code. They have also been known to set up their own charging stations in tourist areas to lure people over to using them.

You probably won’t even know at first that you’re plugged into an infected port, because your phone will charge as usual. However, with your phone plugged into that malware-infected USB port, hackers can:

  • Read all the data on your device

  • Lock your device

  • Infect your device with malware

  • Steal sensitive information on your phone

  • Plant a type of malware that allows the SIM card on your phone to be cloned. If the SIM card is cloned, the hacker can see all your calls and text messages.

There is a name for this type of exploit. It’s called “Juice Jacking” because you’re plugging in to get some “juice” for your phone, and the hacker is hijacking that connection for malicious purposes.

There are warnings from the Federal Trade Commission and other agencies about the dangers of public charging stations and Juice Jacking.

How Can You Avoid Falling Victim to “Juice Jacking” Through Infected USB Ports?

Charge Using the Electrical Plug Instead

When you’re charging your phone in a public area, use the electrical plug instead of a USB. The one with two or three prongs that plug into an electrical outlet.

This will not transmit data the way that a USB connection will, so it’s safer to use. Most smartphone cords will include an electrical plug attachment, and many public charging stations include outlets in addition to USB connections.

Use a Charge-Only USB Cord

There are USB charging cords you can buy that are called “charge-only.” They are only around $10 to $15, so are fairly inexpensive.

It’s a good idea to buy one of these for each person when traveling. These cords only allow an electrical charge but do not allow any data transfer. This protects you from having your phone hacked through an infected USB port.

Having this charge-only USB cord is handy if you run across a public charging station that does not have any available electrical outlets and only has USB ports available.

Get a Portable Power Bank

If you want to be more self-sufficient and not have to worry about finding an open charging port in a busy airport, you can buy a portable power bank. These can cost around $25 to $40 and will generally give you about two phone charges.

They are like small batteries that are easy to carry. It’s important to note that after a few months, they will lose their charge, so it’s best to buy them right before you plan to travel.

Need Help Learning How to Secure Your Phone?

Don’t leave your phone unprotected, especially if you’re planning to travel. CompuTara can help you with friendly personalized service and tutoring on smartphone and tablet security.

Schedule a tutoring session today! Call or text me at: 862-368-4893 or Email me here.

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