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Yes, Your Phone Can Get Hacked at a Public Charging Station

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By Christopher Coble, Esq. on February 27, 2017 7:55 PM

You might think you're just pulling power out of that public charging kiosk in the mall or airport. But it turns out hackers could be pulling data from your phone at the same time. "Just by plugging your phone into a [compromised] power strip or charger, your device is now infected, and that compromises all your data," Drew Paik of security firm Authentic8 told CNN.

So you might want to think twice before just plugging your smartphone in to a public port to charge.

Charging Ahead

While a standard three-prong outlet might be OK, as long as you're using your own charging cable, be wary of USB charging stations, which could be configured to download data from connected devices. Referred to as "juice jacking," a compromised kiosk could take advantage of your device's "handshake" with the charging port to download your photos, contacts, email attachments, and other data.

Although warnings about juice jacking have been around since 2011, smartphone users -- even security savvy techies -- continue to plug in to public ports with few questions about the system's security. Authentic8 set up an experiment at a recent RSA security conference in San Francisco, interested to see how many of the attendees would plug in to a public charging station. "The majority are plugging in no problem," Paik told CNN. "They are at a security conference and they should know better, but they probably feel safe. The others are making fun of them. They just walk by and say, 'Do people really do that?'"

Staying Safe

People really do that, so what should they be doing instead? CNN recommends power-hungry smartphone owners invest in a portable USB battery pack or USB cords that don't have wires to transmit data, either of which can prevent someone from hijacking your phone's information.

TechRepublic says you should stick to wall outlets rather than USB ports, utilize proper encryption when possible, and avoid unlocking and using the phone while charging, which can send more data to the charging port. Like an experienced pickpocket, hackers know that even a simple handshake can be an opportunity for theft.

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