Think twice before charging your phone in public ports


We all have been there at least once: Your phone is dying, and you really need to use it. You spot a USB port or outlet while you’re out at a public place and decide to plug it in to get more battery juice. 

While public outlets may be more common around the country — and you might get that sweet relief of your phone charging — that sweet comfort could be disturbed by an invisible attacker collecting information while your phone is plugged into a hacked outlet.

Drew Palk of the security firm Authenic8 said, “Just by plugging your phone into a (compromised) power strip or charger, your device is now infected, and that compromises all your data.” Authenic8 security firm makes secure browsers that anonymize web activity.

Public charging stations and Wi-fi access points are found in many places like airports, planes, restaurants and even public parks, so people can always have easy access to their phones and data. But what you may not realize is connecting your phone to an unknown port has huge risks.

“Around every corner is someone charging their device. We have many of them available for travelers to use. They’re just trying to get to the next destination. I’m sure they don’t think much about the risks,” said Paula Green, a customer service representative at Jacksonville International Airport.

You may be wondering how could your phone get hacked from a USB port? Well, the cord you use to charge your phone is also used to send data from your phone to other devices. For instance, when you plug your iPhone into your Mac with the charging cord, you can download photos from your phone to your computer.

The process is called “juice jacking” and it means using hacked ports and your phone's video display to record everything you type and look at.

If a port is compromised, there’s no limit to what information a hacker could take, Paik explained.

Things like your email, text messages, photos and contacts. Items that contain critically important information.

“I’m usually more concerned with charging my device rather than being worried about someone hacking it most of the time,” said Shon Smith, a student athlete at University of Louisiana Monroe who travels frequently.

So how can you stay protected and keep your information away from hackers? The best way to ensure your privacy is to avoid using those public charging ports, despite how convenient they might be.  Make sure your phone is fully charged before leaving the house or go the extra mile and invest in your own portable charger. It may not be as convenient, but it’ll be worth it for maintaining your security.