Fake Charging Stations Can Hack Your Smartphone

Is the Juice Worth the Squeeze? 

Nobody wants to run out of battery power while they’re out and about. In fact, a recent study found that we check our phones at least 80 times a day. This attitude has become prevalent in today’s connected world simply because we use our mobile devices for more than just making calls. 

In a world where we rely on our phones for virtually everything – from online banking and email accounts, to social media, games and more – public charging stations can be the ultimate lifesavers when your battery is running low. 

But security experts warn that the juice is never worth the squeeze if a charging station is rigged to steal your data. 

 

What is Juice Jacking?

This hack, also known as “juice jacking,” is where fraudsters set up fake charging kiosks in public venues to steal your phone data.

These affected kiosks can also be programmed to install malware onto your device.

Public charging stations are often equipped with multiple USB attachments to fit a wide range of smartphones. While this may seem like an added convenience feature, most charging stations will also conceal the other end of those cords – and more importantly, the connected power source.

 

There’s always two sides to a connection

Fraudsters are likely to set up fake kiosks in areas where victims will need a charge on-the-go. But when you’re in a rush and only looking for the charging icon to appear on your phone, it can be easy to overlook a hacked charging station.

Juice jacking is effective because it manipulates something we use every day. USB cords allow both data and power to be transferred between two connected devices. While they may look harmless, fraudsters can use these cables to collect your data, share your screen or even infect your device.


“Random cable or random adapters can definitely be used to take over or exploit your phone, your mobile devices, or your laptops, or anything else you might plug into it. It’s really just a two-way conduit at some point – power and data.”

Drew Paik, Authentic8

 

Juice jacking vs. video jacking

Another variation of this hack includes “video jacking” where fraudsters use an HDMI connection (as opposed to a USB connection) to hack into your smartphones. Instead of transferring data when you plug in, fraudsters use an HDMI connection to mirror your phone screen onto another device. This hacking method can be used to capture sensitive information like passwords, login credentials and financial account numbers by recording what you do on your phone.

 

What Should I Do?

While public charging stations can be convenient when your battery is running low, use these tips to protect your devices from juice jacking:

  • Verify the power source. The safest way to charge your phone is by directly plugging into an outlet. Avoid charging your phone in places where the power source is not easily visible.
  • Bring your own cord. By using your own cord, you can avoid using a pubic charging station and opt to plug into a wall outlet instead. You can also purchase power-only USB cords that do not support data transfer capabilities.
  • Invest in an external battery pack. Battery packs work as portable power sources for extra power on-the-go. Plus, you can also safely recharge external batteries at public charging stations without worrying about data being transferred back and forth.
  • If you have no other option, turn off your phone before plugging into a charging station.

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The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of EZShield Inc. alone and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any other person or entity, including specifically any person or entity affiliated with the distribution or display of this content.

Eugene Bekker, Chief Security Officer
Eugene Bekker originally joined EZShield in 2008 as a consultant and today he oversees the architecture of the core...
Read more about Eugene Bekker.

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