What is Juice Jacking?
Juice jacking is the malicious act of using the lure of a charging station to transfer data, malware, or other malicious code to someone’s smartphone.
We use our phones to do everything these days. From checking in to flights to making purchases, phones have made doing these routine tasks a cakewalk. With such heavy usage, our batteries do take a hit, however. This means that oftentimes, our batteries die before we’re able to charge conveniently at home. This leads people to use publicly available charging stations. However, are these charging stations safe? Well, the answer is that they can be, but, there is also some risk involved with using one of these charging stations. These charging stations open up the opportunity for what is known as “juice jacking”. This phenomenon is so concerning that the Los Angeles County District Attorney released a statement warning citizens about using public charging stations because of the danger of juice jacking. Want to know more about what exactly juice jacking is? We’ll dive into it below.
What is Juice Jacking?
In order to juice jack a phone, a charging station is set up with malicious software that allows hackers to intercept your data. Your USB cable allows for both the transfer of data and power. Typically, you would expect that only power would be transferred when you plug into a charging station. However, a malicious station could be set up where the USB connection is configured to allow for both data and power to be transferred. This opens up the opportunity for a hacker to transfer malware to your device that could either steal your data or install malware, such as ransomware, onto your device. This could ultimately lead to bad things like identity theft and theft from your bank accounts.
How to Prevent Juice Jacking
This is all quite concerning. With that being said, there are concrete steps that can be taken to protect ourselves against this type of malicious attack. The first step is to be aware that this problem exists. Bearing in mind that juice jacking is possible, you should avoid plugging your phone into public charging stations in the first place. If you must charge in public, there are some things that you can do. First of all, you can take your phone’s AC charger with you and just plug into an AC power outlet if you need to charge. You also have the option of buying a power bank and walking around with that to charge your phone with. If you must use a charging station, there are USB data blockers available that block the data transfer function of USB cables. Finally, there are USB cables that only allow for the transfer of power to your device in the first place. These cables don’t have the pin required for data transfer connected, meaning that it is impossible to transfer data with these cables (the same applies when you attach a USB data blocker to a regular USB cable).
There are many threats to the security of mobile devices and we have to be careful about everything that we do with them. Be aware when charging your phone and consider employing one or more of the techniques above, just in case you run out of juice while you’re out and about.