March 2, 2024

Charging your smartphone using a USB port in a public place

Have you ever charged your phone at a public charging station when the battery runs out? If you have, beware of “juice-jacking.””

Cybercriminals are out to infect mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablet computers, and gain access to your personal information or install malware when you charge them.

Juice-jacking is a cyberattack in which hackers install malicious software or steal data from your mobile device using USB ports and cables that are publicly accessible.

Read more: With USB-C, even plugging in can set you up to be hacked

Even a 60-second power-up can be enough to compromise your phone’s data. This is because USB cables allow the transmission of both power and data streams simultaneously. Victims can be left vulnerable to identity theft, financial fraud, and significant stress.

There are many USB charging stations in public places, such as shopping centers, airports, and hotels. Although juice jacking has not been widely reported, nor is it a new phenomenon, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office recently warned that this practice poses a serious threat to travelers, who may find themselves in a situation where they are short on battery power.

What is the process?

The attackers first tamper with the charging stations and cables in public places, installing malicious software. The malicious software infects phones that are plugged into a tampered charger by unwitting users.

It can also disable or damage your phone. The software can also delete or steal data from your device and spy on its usage.

How can I tell that I have been juice-jacked?

Hacking mobile devices can often go unnoticed. There are some telltale signs your device has been hacked. These include:

A sudden increase in battery usage or rapid depletion of the battery could indicate that a malicious application is running in the background.

The device is operating slower than normal or restarting unexpectedly.

Apps that take a long time or crash frequently

Excessive heating

Changes to your device settings you didn’t make

Increased or abnormal data usage

How do I protect myself?

It is nearly impossible to detect a USB charger or USB cable that has been tampered with. There are some easy ways to protect against the tampering of USB charging stations and USB cables:

Avoid USB charging stations.

Use AC power outlets instead of USB ports.

Use a portable power bank.

Carry your charger and adaptor.

Use a data blocker such as SyncStop or Juice-Jack Defender. These devices prevent data transmission and only allow the power to pass through when charging.

Use only power-only USB cables such as portaPow. They don’t transmit any data.

Finally, if your phone must be charged at a station, lock it. USB ports don’t usually sync data when a phone is locked. When you plug your mobile phone in, most phones will ask for your permission before allowing the USB port to access your data. You should decline if you are using an unreliable or unknown port.

What can I do if I suspect I’ve been juice-jacked?

There are a few things you can do to protect the integrity of your device if you suspect that you’ve fallen victim:

monitor your device for unusual activity

Delete suspicious apps that you do not remember installing

Restore your device’s factory settings

Install antivirus software such as Avast Antivirus and AVG AntiVirus

keep your mobile device’s system software up to date. Update your mobile device’s system software regularly.

Read more: Apple iPhones could have been hacked for years – here’s what to do about it.

A lot of data is stored on our mobile devices these days, and protecting our privacy is crucial. While juice jacking may not be a widespread threat, it is important to ensure the safety of our mobile devices. So, the next time you consider using a public USB charging station or cable, ask yourself if it is worth it, particularly as your personal information is at stake.

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