Are Public Charging Stations Safe to Use?
The answer is yes, but like everything regarding technology, you have to be smart about it.
Low battery anxiety – it’s that feeling a person gets when their phone battery drops to 20 percent or lower. We have all experienced it once or twice (or likely dozens of times). Our dependency on using mobile devices at any given moment, for even the smallest of tasks, drains our phone battery faster than we’d like.
People tend to get a little crazy when they see the dreaded low battery warning – they’ll run in to the nearest store, plug-in to that wall outlet, the one behind the mannequin, crouch down, and slowly watch their battery come back to the green zone, the comfort zone.
More and more public spaces are offering charging stations for their visitors. You can find them at places like airports, shopping centers, and train stations. Our phones have become the central source for storing all our information – from emails, phone contacts, and personal reminders to apps for bank accounts, mobile wallets, and personal pictures of loved ones. Those who are desperate may see a cord conveniently left behind at a charging station and be tempted to plug-in and recharge.
Hackers prey on situations like these. Don’t get juice jacked (juice jacking is a type of cyber-attack through a charging port that also connects data, typically through USB). Hackers can modify a USB socket to run malware when connected to your device. The malware can then scrape the device and steal personal data found on your phone.
You can also run the risk of getting your phone data compromised by using cell phone charging station lockers. These lockers allow you to charge your phone, lock it in a locker, and then come back some time later with your battery recharged. The flaw, in this great sounding option, is that the lockers only allow you to charge your phone through USB ports – no options for AC outlet plug-ins. This is the easiest way for a hacker to juice jack your phone.
The good news is, you don’t have to steer clear of public charging stations all together, you can still get recharged without fear of getting your data stolen.
5 Ways to Safely Use Public Charging Stations
1. Opt for the AC outlet over the USB port
USB ports and cables can deliver malware or viruses to your device, so opt for AC power outlets.
2. Look for charging stations with dual AC outlet / USB ports
This outlet design makes it (nearly) impossible to attach skimming devices. It's a
huge deterrent and hackers will likely look for easier power sources to manipulate.
3. Use power-only cables
These are exactly what they sound like – they only transfer power to your mobile device, no data. The additional benefit is that these cables tend to charge faster than a cable that also transfers data.
4. Get your charge from a portable power bank
This gives you back-up power whenever you need it. You can even charge both the power bank and the phone at the same time – plug the battery into the outlet and then your phone into the battery. The potential danger is only when you connect your phone directly to the USB port.
5. Attach a USB data blocker
These devices attach to your USB cable and charger to block data transferring and only allow power to flow to your mobile phone or tablet.