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Have you ever been out and about with a phone battery that’s about to die? Maybe you’re traveling, running errands, or are stuck at the mall. More and more public USB charging stations are popping up to help us out in a pinch — but according to a recent government alert, that also means more and more potential to experience “juice jacking.”
What is juice jacking? It’s a cyber-theft tactic where criminals load malevolent software on public USB charging stations to access electronic devices while they’re being charged. Malware can then steal personal data and passwords directly from the device.
Have you been juice jacked? How do you know? How does juice jacking work? And how can you prevent it?
We’ll tell you what we know about this growing cybersecurity threat.
Juice jacking involves installing bad software onto phones via corrupted cables or USB ports.
How can juice jacking get to your phone? Thieves can install malware on a public USB charging station’s firmware or software, which can allow criminals to remotely access any device that’s plugged in.
Thieves can also infect USB cables and leave them plugged into the charging station, which can install malware onto devices when they’re used. In some cases, criminals may even give away infected cables as promotional gifts to unsuspecting victims.
It’s really tricky for charging station providers (like airports or malls) to be aware of juice jacking. It can be difficult to detect these types of attacks since they often occur silently and without any obvious signs.
Juice jacking thieves can get your passwords, credit card numbers, and more.
When you plug your device into a public USB charging station that has been infected with malware, criminals can potentially steal a wide range of personal information from your device. For example, malware can record the keys you tap to capture passwords or copy files and data from your device without your knowledge.
Criminals can then use this information to access your online accounts, make fraudulent purchases with your credit card, or sell your personal information to other bad actors on the dark web. This can lead to serious consequences, including identity theft and financial loss.
You can protect yourself from juice jacking by carrying your own chargers and cables.
Experts say the biggest risk of juice jacking comes from charging stations that have USB cables attached to them. Although bringing your own USB cable (especially “charging-only” cables) can help reduce the risk, it’s still not completely safe. Criminals can still install malware on the charging station itself or use other techniques to steal your personal information.
Avoiding public USB charging stations altogether is the only way to be sure. Instead, bring an AC adapter (so you can just plug into a standard plug), car chargers, or an external phone charger. Here are some things we found online that can help:
Is your phone battery draining faster than normal? It could be a sign you’ve been juice jacked.
It’s not easy to detect if your phone has been “juice jacked” because many times these attacks happen without any obvious signs. But there are a few clues you can look for on your phone that point to juice jacking:
- Unusual battery drain: If your phone battery is draining faster than usual, it could be a sign that malware is running in the background.
- Pop-ups or unusual prompts: If you see pop-ups or unusual prompts on your phone asking for permission to access your data or install an app, it could be a sign that your device has been compromised.
- Slow performance: If your phone is running slower than usual or is freezing or crashing a lot, it could be a sign that malware is running in the background.
- Unexplained data usage: If you notice a sudden increase in data usage on your phone, it could be a sign that malware is using your data plan to transmit information.
If you notice any of these signs or if you’re generally concerned about whether you’ve been juice jacked, run a malware scan on your phone as soon as possible. You should also change any compromised passwords and monitor your accounts for any suspicious activity.
You should also beware public Wi-Fi networks.
Public Wi-Fi is often unsecured and can be easily intercepted by cybercriminals who are looking to steal personal information, passwords, and other sensitive data. When you connect to places with free Wi-Fi, your device can potentially be visible to anyone else on that network, putting your data at risk.
To protect yourself, use a virtual private network (VPN) to encrypt your internet traffic and protect your personal information. (There are lots of free VPN services out there you can start using pronto.) You should also avoid accessing sensitive information, such as bank accounts or personal emails, while connected to a public Wi-Fi network.