With the summer months around the corner and vacations on the brain we tend to forget, with all the chaos that comes with travel, the risks of using technology in public spaces.
As we use our phones and tablets for boarding passes, travel plans, and just to pass the time, the battery levels on our devices always seem to die at the most inopportune moments. Recently, airports, hotels and coffee shops have been offering charging stations so travelers can recharge their devices while they are on the go. Unfortunately, this “free” service can come with a heavy price which hackers have taken advantage of called “Juice Jacking.”
Juice Jacking, as defined by the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), is a type of cyber-attack where criminals use USB charging ports, found in public places like airports, to steal data from unsuspecting users who plug in their devices to charge. This threat is not just limited to the kiosks that airports conveniently place for travelers, but also affects the USB plugs in most lobbies and waiting areas.
With a simple plug in to a public USB, even with your own cable, attackers can use the opportunity to install malware, lock devices or copy sensitive information such as login credentials, contacts, and even photos. This information can then be sold to other malicious actors or be used to access online accounts.
So, how do you avoid being a victim of Juice Jacking? The FCC has some tips to help protect you from an attack:
- Avoid using a public USB charging station. Use an AC power outlet instead.
- Bring AC, car chargers and your own USB cables with you when traveling.
- Carry a portable charger or external battery.
- Consider carrying a charging-only cable, which prevents data from sending or receiving while charging (available at any tech retailer).
- If you plug your device into a USB port and a prompt appears asking you to select “Share Data” or “Charge Only”, always select “Charge Only.”
- If you see a USB port or a cable that has been damaged or is loose, do not use it.
There is also a device called a Data Blocker, which is a small device you can plug into a USB port. You then connect your personal charging cable to prevent a data transfer. Much like a charge-only cable, a data blocker only allows the charging current to flow and disables any automatic syncing and transfers to or from your device.
While all these options are exceptional, the most important tip is to be aware of your surroundings and cautious of where you plug in your devices in public spaces. Your information and devices are just as, if not more, valuable as your luggage so handle it with care and safe travels this summer!