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Are your mobile devices safe from “juice jacking”?

Tech experts are spreading the word about the risks of public charging stations
Jessica Cain
Tech experts are spreading the word about the risks of public charging stations.

A phone-related security alert is being issued ahead of the busy summer travel season.

“Juice jacking,” sometimes called “juice hacking,” is when a criminal uses a public charging station to steal data or install malware on a victim’s device.

Joon Park, a professor at Syracuse University’s School of Information Studies, said hackers can compromise USB ports.

"Just like we can transfer any data from our phone through the cable, an attacker may have the same access," he said.

While "juice jacking" itself is not new, a number of agencies, including the FBI, Better Business Bureau, and the FCC are working hard to spread the word about the risk this spring. Cybercrime is becoming more prevalent as hackers and their tools become smaller and more sophisticated.

Plus, Park said there are also more opportunities for crime.

"We use many more mobile devices, which means we need to charge them more frequently,” he said. “And then our cities, public services, are very kind, so they want to provide free charging services."

However, Park said there are a number of ways to protect yourself. Your best bet is to carry your own charging cables and backup batteries if you plan to be away from home for a long period of time.

If you have to use a public station, use a regular wall connector instead of a USB port to charge. If a USB port is your only option, Park said look for a charging-only cable, and don’t use a cable that allows for charging and data transfer.

Park said this is also a good time to review your overall personal device policies to make sure you’re being as safe as possible. He recommends only using trusted Wi-Fi networks, as it is easy for scammers to make fake networks that sound authentic and have a strong signal. He also said regularly check your phone and delete apps you are no longer using.

“Nowadays, people use all kinds of different devices,” he said. “We do have many benefits and advantages, but on the other side, it also brings new security and privacy concerns and challenges and responsibilities. If you want to use those many different devices and services, you have a responsibility to manage them securely.”

Jessica Cain is a freelance reporter for WRVO, covering issues around central New York. Most recently, Jessica was a package producer at Fox News in New York City, where she worked on major news events, including the 2016 presidential conventions and election. Prior to that, she worked as a reporter and anchor for multiple media outlets in central and northern New York. A Camillus native, Jessica enjoys exploring the outdoors with her daughters, going to the theater, playing the piano, and reading.