Your phone is on two percent battery and you’re stuck at the airport due to a delayed flight, when you see your saving grace—a free charging station at the gate! We’ve all been there, and we’ve all used them, especially while traveling, and you probably didn’t think twice about plugging in. Well, you should.
“Juice jacking,” as the travel scam is called, targets desperate travelers in need of a charge. Daniel Smith, a security researcher at Radware explains how this works. “Attackers can use fake charging stations to trick unsuspecting users into plugging in their device. Once the device is plugged in the user’s data and photos could be downloaded or malware can be written onto the device.”
Most recently, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office issued a new warning about the scam that became a concern in 2016, warning travelers to “avoid using public USB power charging stations in airports, hotels, and other locations because they may contain dangerous malware.”
Hackers can download anything that is on your phone, since the charging port is doubling as a data port. We’re talking passwords, emails, photos, messages, and even banking and other personal information via apps.
How to Prevent Juice-Jacking
“Don’t use public charging stations. If you are a heavy mobile user, bring an external battery pack so you can avoid risking your device’s privacy at a charging station,” suggests Smith.
Here are some thin and lightweight external batteries that are easy to travel with:
He also recommends plugging into your laptop to charge your phone if you’re traveling with one and don’t have an external charger. And, if you find yourself always on low battery and relying on public charging stations, there are products out there that will protect your phone data while charging in public spots.
Consider purchasing the super tiny SyncStop, which is a “USB defender” that protects any data from being stolen off of your phone.
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in 2016. It has been updated to reflect the most current information.