Airport charging stations could give your phone malware

Airport charging station

By 2019, you probably know it’s not safe to hop on the internet without a safety net in place: Anti-malware protection, a firewall, a solid VPN, and a secure password manager. We create quintillions of bytes of data every day, and it’s easy to make an innocent mistake that puts it at risk. Now that innocent mistake can include plugging your phone into a charger at an airport.

It’s no secret that public Wi-Fi can be sketchy at best, and while it’s convenient to charge your phone at the nearest port, it’s not necessarily safe. Free public phone chargers can be used to secretly install malware on your device, malware that can eat up your data in a process called “juice jacking.”

What’s juice jacking?

It sounds like tinfoil hat propaganda, but in reality, it’s an underrated but serious security threat. ‘Juice jacking’ was coined back in 2011, and refers to a hack attempt that uses public charging terminals to install malware on your device. It does so covertly via USB charging port, and it copies your phone’s data, pictures, and email into someone else’s hands.

juice jacking
Hackers can use public USB charging terminals to copy your personal data

“All they really need to do is load malware on the USB port,” explains IBM cybersecurity expert Charles Henderson. It’s unlikely you’ll even know it’s happened until it’s too late. “There’s really no way to tell,” says Henderson. “You really have to be extremely technologically savvy to detect such an attack.”

3 easy solutions to stay safe in airports

1. Use a portable charger

The best thing you can do is avoid airport charging terminals altogether. These days it’s not too hard to get your hands on a cheap, reliable portable charger. It’s a safe, convenient way to keep your phone charged and ready to go without putting your data at risk with a public outlet.

2. Use an electrical outlet instead

It should also be noted juice jacking can’t be done unless it’s via USB, so as long as you opt for an electrical outlet instead you’ll be safe.

3. Turn off your phone first

Lastly, if you’re in a situation where you’ve got no choice but to charge with a public USB port, completely powering off the device beforehand will prevent the download and transfer of your data.

Luckily, preventing your phone from being juice jacked is pretty easy. Just remember that any time you use public charging stations or Wi-Fi, your online activity could be at risk. Follow these easy steps, and stay informed!

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