a close up of a power outlet

How to Protect Yourself from “Juice Jacking” at USB Charging Stations

Have you ever heard of “juice jacking”? Yeah, neither had I. That is, until today. Now, after spending more time than I’d like to admit, falling into yet another internet rabbit hole, I’m here to tell you this: it’s NOT FAKE NEWS. Here’s what you NEED to know about public USB charging ports and how to protect yourself.

Poisoning the Modern Day Oasis

No matter how charged up your devices are, whether its to use them for in-flight entertainment or just to wait out delays, you’ve probably had the panic of being on low battery. I’ve plugged into USB charging stations at airports, hotels, coffee shops and the like hundreds of times without even giving it a second thought.

Call me gullible or paranoid. Or, just go ahead and make me a tin-foil hat. Scrolling online I saw what seemed to be some internet drivel talking about the security risks of using public USB charging ports. I mean, are there really people out there that are rigging these amenities to screw with folks’ devices or hack their info?

Anyone with a smart phone (or a pulse) can tell you that finding a charging station is the modern day version of an oasis in the desert. What do you do if that’s now poisoned?

This is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

It’s bad enough that we have to deal with skimmers at ATMs. After being hit a few times (before the US got up to speed) I switched to a bank that provided chip/NFC debit cards.

Then there was that time I bought in-flight WiFi while traveling through Southeast Asia and by the time I’d landed was shocked to see $6,000 worth of air conditioners on my credit card. I haven’t used WiFi outside of my own home without a VPN since then. (What’s that? You don’t use a VPN? How else are you gonna be able to keep your data safe AND stream HBO while abroad? My favorite service is ExpressVPN – sign up today and get 30 days free!)

My response when I first read about “juice jacking”? I kind of lost it:

Now this?! Is there NOTHING sacred?!?! For F**k’s Sake… Here’s just ANOTHER reason why we, as humanity, can’t have ANY nice things.

What is Juice Jacking?

Get your heads out of the gutter – well ok – I too thought it might have had something to do with steroids upon first glance. Well, turns out it’s a real thing. A term that describes an exploitation of security vulnerability within your device. USB doesn’t just transmit power, don’t forget. It also sends data.

Anything could be on the other end of that USB port – viruses, malware, or worse. Leaving your photos, passwords and private info just sitting there for the taking.

a power outlet on a bench

Sure, Apple has added a setting for “USB Restricted Mode”, but they still can’t prove someone can’t access your web camera without turning on the little green light. If you’re an Android user – you clearly like living life on the edge. As I’m sure you already know those devices are extra susceptible.

Ok, sure, you might not need to be THAT paranoid, but as someone who’s on the road 250+ days a year and who values his privacy (despite what my Facebook page says), if you work on the road or on the go, here’s some easy ways to keep safe.

Don’t Leave Home Without These

So, if anxiety hasn’t paralyzed you yet and you’re still reading, here are some options for how best to protect your devices from those charging stations:

Use a Portable Battery & Avoid Charging Stations All Together

If you don’t already have a portable battery, now is a great excuse to get one. My go to charger is the AUKEY USB Power Bank because it’s got USB A outputs, USB C  and Lightning & Micro USB inputs. There’s literally not a cable that doesn’t work with it. You can get fast charging and even power up a MacBook Pro. It’s half as thick as old chargers and you can charge an iPhone almost 8 times over.

Use a Standard AC Outlet

OK, this might seem a little basic, but it’s sometimes a hassle to have to fight over outlets or manage multiple dongles or power blocks. You might not want to carry around an extension cord like I do. But then, how else do you make friends at the airport? My FAVORITE power accessory is the PlugBug Duo by the amazing people at TwelveSouth, the geniuses behind the BookBook. Seriously folks…if you use a Mac laptop, you need this in your life no matter what.

Get a USB Charge-Only Adapter

The cheapest and simplest solution. Though for someone who easily loses the iPhone audio jack adapter dongle and hates having to have yet ANOTHER dongle, this is a great option. The data pins are disconnected in the dongle so it’s like a physical firewall. The downside (besides having another dongle) it will only offer you 1A charging – so no quick charge for you. If you don’t need a Lightning cable, you might be interested in the PortaPow cable (it’s USB to USB) which is a cable minus the data pins.

So, consider yourselves forewarned. Until there are abundant wireless chargers the world around which may very well alleviate these concerns, its best be safe rather than sorry. That is until the bad guys figure out a way to screw with that, too.

The post Why You Need to Protect Yourself from Public USB Charging Ports was first published on Coworkaholic.

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