What is Juice Jacking? How to Protect Your Devices at Public Charging Stations

"Juice Jacking" has become a topic of discussion, with even the FBI weighing in. How can you protect your devices from the risks of public charging?
A woman charging her phone at a public charging station at the airport, not knowing that juice jacking can take place

Charging On The Go

As our reliance on smart phones, tablets, and laptops grows, so does the need for constant charging. However, when you're on the go, finding an outlet to charge your device at can be challenging. That's why in recent years, public charging stations have become increasingly common in airports, malls, and hotels. Despite their apparent convenience, these public charging stations pose a serious risk to your device's security and privacy. So much so that the FBI recently tweeted a reminder to avoid using free charging stations in public places. In this article, we'll discuss what juice jacking is, and how to protect your device when you find yourself with a low battery.

Twitter post from FBI Denver reading "avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers. Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead."  image of man rolling suitcase and phones charging at a station
Recent Tweet from the FBI warning against the use of charging stations.

What is Juice Jacking?

Juice jacking is a type of cyber-attack where hackers use public charging stations in order to steal sensitive data, such as passwords, contacts, and credit card information. Hackers can install malware on the charging station, or use a compromised cable to infect devices with malware once they’ve been plugged in. Most people aren’t familiar with the dangers of using public chargers, and this lack of awareness makes it easy for hackers to exploit unsuspecting victims.

How do cyber-criminals go about infecting these public charging stations? There are a few common methods that you should be aware of:

  • Physical Tampering: Public charging stations can be physically tampered with. For example, a hacker could install a skimming device to steal credit card information, or load malware onto the public USBs.
  • Infected Cables: One common method is for threat actors to leave their own infected cables plugged into charging stations so that some unsuspecting person may plug their phone into the abandoned cord. The FCC also warns that there have been reports of cyber-criminals handing out free charging cables as promotional giveaways, only for the free cables to already be infected.
  • Fake Charging Kiosks: Some “charging stations” may have not been tampered with, but are entirely fake altogether. This method includes criminals setting up fake stations in public areas, such as shopping centers or airports. This method is elaborate, but is effective in stealing personal information.

How to Protect Your Devices at Public Charging Stations

To protect your device from juice jacking, here are some tips to follow:

Find an Outlet

Charging directly from an outlet is the safest way to charge your device. This requires you to bring your own charging block and to locate an outlet, but is the safest method in public places.

Use a Portable Charger

Another option is to use a portable charger, particularly if outlets aren’t available. These external batteries can charge your device without the need for a public charging station. Additionally, these devices can be recharged safely in public, as they don’t contain any data to be transferred.

Bring Your Own Charging Cable

One of the best ways to avoid juice jacking is to bring your own charging cable. This way, you know the cable is safe, and you can avoid using a compromised cable from the charging station. You can also find charge-only cables from trusted suppliers, which stops data from being transferred while charging.

Utilize a Data Blocker

A data blocker is a device that sits between your device and the charging station or cable, and blocks the transfer of data. This can protect your device from malware and unauthorized data access.

Protecting Your Data

Juice jacking is a serious threat that can compromise the security and privacy of your device. By following the tips we've discussed in this article, you can protect your device from the risks of public charging stations. To stay up to date on the latest developments in cybersecurity and technology, be sure to subscribe to the Blackink IT blog.

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