Watch Out For Juice Jacking of Your Portable Electronic Device

When public places — such as at the gates and lounges of airports, aboard public conveyances such as buses and airplanes, and the lobbies of hotel and resort properties as five of many examples — started offering power charging stations equipped with Universal Serial Bus ports into which anyone may plug their portable electronic devices to recharge them when their batteries are running low on power…

Watch Out For Juice Jacking of Your Portable Electronic Device

…but the office of the district attorney of Los Angeles County posted a warning at its official Internet web site:

Travelers should avoid using public USB power charging stations in airports, hotels and other locations because they may contain dangerous malware.

In the USB Charger Scam, often called “juice jacking,” criminals load malware onto charging stations or cables they leave plugged in at the stations so they may infect the phones and other electronic devices of unsuspecting users.

The malware may lock the device or export data and passwords directly to the scammer.

Juice jacking is essentially the hijacking of power charging stations equipped with Universal Serial Bus ports for criminals to perform the aforementioned actions.

Additionally, criminals have been known to leave cables plugged in at the charging stations; and fraudsters may even give you infected cables as a promotional gift.

What You Can Do

USB adapter

Photograph ©2015 by Brian Cohen.

To prevent your portable electronic device from being compromised by nefarious individuals who can use your “information to access online accounts or sell it to other bad actors”, the Federal Communications Commission of the United States offers the following tips at its official Internet web site:

  • Avoid using a USB charging station and use an AC power outlet instead.
  • Bring AC, car chargers, and your own USB cables with you for your portable electronic devices when traveling.
  • Consider purchasing a portable charger or external battery and carrying it with you for emergencies.
  • Consider carrying a charging-only cable — which prevents data from sending or receiving while charging — from a trusted supplier.

Summary

Unfortunately, detecting a compromised charging station or Universal Serial Bus port is virtually impossible to do; so assume that someone had tampered with them if you need a portable electronic device — which contains vital information and software on them — to be recharged; and follow the aforementioned advice instead to be as careful as possible.

One additional thing you can do is carry an older portable device with no important information on it. For example — in addition to the mobile telephone which I purchased brand new a couple of years ago — I carry a portable electronic device which is greater than ten years old primarily for listening to music, as it still works well with the latest technology in rental cars, in hotel rooms, and aboard airplanes; and if anything happened to it, the worst that would occur is that I would have to listen to my music from my mobile telephone instead.

All photographs ©2015 and ©2016 by Brian Cohen.

4 thoughts on “Watch Out For Juice Jacking of Your Portable Electronic Device”

  1. Patrick says:

    Come on Brian, you are usually pretty through but this time you missed the boat.
    There hasn’t been one documented case of some being “juice jacked” to date. If there has, I’d like to see it. The office to the D.A. has even said there haven’t been any cases but that that’s it’s “possible” it could happen. It’s all so much theory and conjecture.
    I’d be more worried about getting hit by lightening or being pick pocketed or catching a communal disease from a toilet seat than being juice jacked. 😉

    1. Brian Cohen says:

      I appreciate the compliment about me being thorough, Patrick; but I simply did not have reason to question two official government entities with their advice and information…

      …plus, “juice jacking” reminds me of a similar scheme with automated teller machines and credit card readers which have been reportedly compromised as well so that nefarious individuals can steal account numbers to use at merchants and banks.

      For the record — and to bolster your point — I have never had a portable electronic device “juice jacked”…

      …and as for avoiding being the victim of a pickpocket, I did write this article:

      https://thegate.boardingarea.com/reminder-3-ways-to-avoid-being-the-victim-of-pickpockets/

      I smiled at the “catching a communal disease from a toilet seat” part of your comment…

  2. BillyBobby says:

    When I first saw this story I thought …Hmmmm… do you think really?
    I googled (a lot) it and only found stories referring to either the LADA or the FCC. The FCC just refers to the LA DA and yet I can find no cases of it actually happening, just that it could.

    Has anyone found an actual case or two?

    In defense of the article forewarned is forearmed

  3. NB says:

    Everything you do in life involves an element of risk. To keep sane, and to lead a reasonable life, you need to balance those risks. If you live in NYC or SF, you are taking a significant, albeit very small, risk taking a car or cab to the airport rather than public transport. The risk is many many times higher than using a public USB point and, if you lose the risk, the consequences (death) are far far worse. And yet rational people choose to drive. So, rational people will continue to charge where convenient, rather than spend hours fiddling around with spare batteries, spare phones etc. And they would be right.

    If or when the risks change, then it’s time to reassess.

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