Free charging kiosks are welcomed sights when your smartphone battery goes dead away from your home or office. They’re like oases in the desert, and most of us never give them a second thought. We gladly fish out our USB cords, plug in, juice up, and go about our business. But that free charging station can give you more than you bargained for, and while it’s powering up your smartphone it may be uploading malicious software or stealing your valuable personal data. It’s called ‘juice jacking‘, and it’s become increasingly popular with hackers and cyber criminals. In many ways, it’s the perfect cyber scam. All the hacker has to do is tap into a charging kiosk, and wait for you to come to them.
What is ‘Juice Jacking’?
All smartphones, regardless of make or model, have one common feature – power and data share a common path when charged via a USB cord. This inherent vulnerability allows cyber criminals to gain direct access to your smartphone during the charging process. The hacker will secrete a computer in the charging kiosk, and when your smartphone or tablet is connected it pairs with the criminal’s device. This gives the hacker ample opportunity to siphon off personal data, or to install any kind of malicious software they desire. In extreme cases, hackers can clone your phone’s operating system and memory cache, creating a full backup of your phone that can be accessed wirelessly at a later date. The process of ‘juice jacking’ is swift, and it only takes a minute or two for your device to be compromised.
Protecting Yourself and Your Data
Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself from ‘Juice jacking’ hackers and most of them are fairly simple. The most successful way to protect yourself is to avoid free charging kiosks all together. Easier said than done, you say? Not if you follow these simple tips:
Keep Your Mobile Topped Off – Get into the habit of charging your devices at home or in the office whenever they are not in use. If you have some downtime, and you’re not using your smartphone or tablet, plug it in to your own charger.
Carry a Backup Battery – This is not possible for all devices, as some do not provide user access to batteries and SIM cards. However, if yours does, make it a point to carry a fully charged backup.
Portable Chargers – Personal chargers have become small, portable, and relatively inexpensive. If you travel a lot for business, or simply tend to forget to charge your mobile, it’s worth investing in a portable charger.
Lock Your Device – If you must use a third party charging station, make sure your mobile is well and truly locked. In most cases (though not all) this should prevent it from being paired with the hacker’s device.
These are simple steps anyone can take to help avoid ‘juice jacking’ from an unfamiliar charging station. However, if you travel a lot and tend to rely on public charging stations it may be worth investing in some extra protection.
‘Juice Jacking’ and the USB Condom
USB cables have four pins, half of which are used to transmit data while the remaining two are used to transmit power. When a USB cord is plugged into a charging station all four pins are active, which gives hackers direct access to your mobile’s data core. However, there is a simple solution to the problem – the USB Condom. Manufactured and marketed by New York firm Xipiter, the USB condom fits on top of a standard USB cord, blocking access to the pins that transmit data. The pins that transmit power are left open, so your device can be charged without fear of infection or data theft. Xipiter’s USB condom is a simple device that was introduced to the market late last year, and should be indispensable for travelers and business professionals who find themselves relying on public kiosk to recharge their spent smartphones and tablets.
One of the chief complaints about smartphones and phablets is the lack of extended battery life, and people are increasingly reliant on public charging stations to top off their mobile devices. But free charging kiosks aren’t always safe and secure, and ‘juice jacking’ is more common than many of us might like to believe. Fortunately, there are ways to protect yourself and your data from ‘juice jacking’ that will allow you to stop hackers and cyber criminals in their tracks.