Are Public Cell Phone Charging Stations Dangerous?

How Safe Are USB Public Cell Phone Charging Stations?

The word is out! Our government officials have spoken out regarding public cell phone charging stations. The cell phones of people using these stations are being infected with malicious software. You know the cellphone charging station may not be safe but you use it anyway. Are public cell phone charging stations dangerous?

Imagine being at an airport waiting for a flight to arrive, or depart. Your cell phone is low on power and needs to be charged. You are waiting for an important call. You need to find a way to charge your cell phone. Time to find a place to charge your phone, ah-ha, you’re in luck, there are charging stations spread throughout the airport.

You’re relieved you found a charging station, and you proceed to charge your phone. A 15 minute charge is good enough to keep your phone running long enough to take that important call.

Like 55% of American adults you may not be aware of the risk of your cell phone being infected with malware, or sensitive data being stolen, when you use a charging station.

image of cell phone crashing at public cell phone charging station

Beware of Phone Charging Locations That Steal Your Data

Yeah, that’s right, some public cell phone charging stations attempt to steal your sensitive information, and/or install malware on your phone. You’re experiencing “Low Phone Battery Anxiety”, and against your better judgement you use a public cell phone charging station.

While some experts say the threat does not warrant concern, other experts disagree. X-Force Red, the penetration testing team at IBM, have issued warnings about the risks some public cell phone charging stations pose.

If the charging station has been illegally tampered with you are at risk of being “Juice Jacked”. And, it’s not just the station that you need to be concerned with, it’s also the threat of other phones that are connected to the same station.

What is Juice Jacking?

Juice Jacking is a type of cyber-attack. Cybercriminals install malicious software on a charging station with the intentions of stealing your data or infecting your phone with malware. The malicious software can allow the attacker to gain access to your device. The criminals are after your passwords and other sensitive data stored on your phone.

image of thief running after stealing data from a cell phone animated

How to Mitigate the Risks of Using Public Charging Stations

Having your phone stolen may be costly but the real cost is when your data is stolen. Here are some tips to help you avoid becoming a victim of a Juice-Jacking cyber-attack:

  • Only use charging stations owne3d by reputable companies
  • Turn your phone off when using a charging station
  • Always have a portable power bank to charge your phone with
  • Ensure you are using a power-only USB cable when using public stations
  • Purchaser and carry an “USB Condom” with you at all times

What is a USB Condom?

The USB cable you use for charging your cell phone does not only carry the power necessary to charge your battery, it also carries data. At the minimum it exchanges information about charging speed and battery capacity.

A USB condom can prevent the transfer of dat between your phone and a charging station. It’s a great little gadget to have on hand.

How does a USB Condom work with a public charging station?

A USB Condom is simply a dongle that is attached to your USB cable that breaks the data connection and supplies only charging power to your phone. A USB Condom is a data blocker, and is often referred to as such.

When you use a USB Condom you are being security conscious and exhibiting awareness of possible dangers. Some experts rate the risk of being Juice-Jacked as low. It’s your phone, and your data at risk, you will need to decide whether the purchase and use of an USB Condom is warranted.

Considering they are small and not bulky to carry with you, why not carry one with you. Maybe it’s the cost of purchasing one. Cost should not be a determining factor to use one or not. USB Condoms (data breakers) are easy to find online for as little as $5.

image of world map - where to find cell phone public charging stations

Where Can You Charge Your Phone if Your Traveling or Homeless

It’s important to keep your cell phone fully charged when traveling. You need your phone not just for convenience but for your safety. If you always carry your phone charger with you, then all you need is a power outlet to plug into. The staff at most businesses will usually offer you the use of one if you ask.

There are companies like ChargeItSpot that offer a way to locate one of their charging stations. Many business owners provide access to these charging stations as a convenience to customers. Business owners realize that offering this service can increase foot traffic in their store and lead to more sales.

Here is a link to a public cell phone charging station locator that makes it easy to find a charging station.

using-a-charging-station-at-an-airport-image

How to find a public cell phone charging station in California and New York

California

In California, you can use this map to find a free charging station near you.

New York

New York City is converting old pay phones into phone charging stations! These chargers can be used for free.

Read more: Protecting your Personal Area Network (PAN)

Updated 02/20/2021 by Kirby Allen