Juice Jacking and the Desperate Search for Power

By Brad Frederick

Is there a more desperate moment than when the power icon on your phone is in the red and you are about to be cut off from communication with the world? I wish I was exaggerating, but we’ve all scrambled to find whatever power source we could to charge up our phones. It’s usually when traveling that we have the greatest need and the least number of available wall outlets.

Anyone who has been to an airport in the last 10 years can tell you that seats by an electrical outlet are in short supply. So, what is the remedy airports and other public spaces have come up with? USB Charging Stations. (You’ll find that these are particularly popular when traveling abroad.)

These aren’t limited to airports, either. I’ve played poker at casinos with tables that had USB charging ports built into them for the players, so this is becoming common for many different venues. All you have to do is plug in your phone using a USB cable, get charged up for free, and you’re safely on your way… except we’re not so sure about the “safe” part.

Juice Jacking – What Is It?

The term “Juice Jacking” dates back to 2011. Juice jacking is the act of using a USB charging station to steal data or harm a tech device. It is a type of cyberattack in which a charging port/cable can double as a data connection. This typically involves either installing malware or copying sensitive data from a smartphone or other connected device.

A USB port can be used to charge your phone (like when you connect it to your laptop), but did you also know that a USB port can be used to move files back and forth between two devices? In the case of powering up your phone, you only need the USB port to act as a power socket but, unfortunately, it can be used to transfer data as well, and therein lies the issue.

Pro Tip: If you ever see a cable plugged in to one of these charging stations that was left behind (possibly by someone with ill intentions) never use it. If you do, you are putting yourself and your data at risk.

Protection On-the-Go

When on the road, these are my tips for getting power and, when warranted, using a USB Charging Station safely and securely:

  • Bring your own supplied cable and wall charger. Then, plug these into a regular electrical outlet. This is by far your safest option.
  • Bring your own portable charger. Wall outlets are not always readily available, so having a power brick with you can be extremely helpful. I’m including two of my favorites here (I’ve traveled with the older one extensively).
    • Anker PowerCore+ 10050 Premium Aluminum Portable Charger: I purchased this in January of 2017. I have an iPhone XS Max and I have been able to keep two iPhones charged up all day that were actively being used. With lower usage, you could probably get several days’ worth of power. 1 USB port. You can find it on Amazon.
    • Anker PowerCore 26800 Portable Charger: I purchased this in May of 2019. This charger is newer to me, but because it is larger, it is not as easy to carry in a pocket. For trips, I like this as backup/emergency power for longer periods. 3 USB ports. You can find it on Amazon.
  • Purchase a data protector for more secure connections. I recommend only doing this if a USB charging station is your only option. Here are two options:
  • Worst case scenario, power off your device. If you must use a USB charging station with no added security measures, at least turn off your device before plugging it in; this may provide additional protection.

My portable charging devices have been lifesavers for me many times (and so convenient! – just make sure they are charged up before heading out). It also makes sense to have one of these inexpensive security add-ons available just in case you need to use public charging stations.

Remember, “free” is not always free, so protect yourself.

Need help securing your data? Give us a call at 248.687.7888 or email us at inquiry@mediag.com for more information on how we can help keep your data safe.