5 ways to avoid getting hacked when charging your phone at the airport
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.
These days, USB charging outlets are a crucial part of the modern traveler’s routine. We look for them in hotels, Ubers, airport lounges, charging stations by the airport gate — in fact, TPG staffers are required to note the presence or absence of USB outlets on every flight we review.
But is there a hidden risk to these heaven-sent devices? Experts say yes. This week, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office issued a warning via Twitter, cautioning people against unethical hackers who can program USB charging outlets with malware targeting sensitive cell phone data, a move called “juice jacking.”
“A free [phone] charge could end up draining your bank account,”” Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak stated in a video embedded in the tweet.
According to Sisak, juice jacking can take several forms. The malware downloads itself onto the charging cell phone and can monitor the phone’s usage in real time, transmit bank account passwords and private information elsewhere, lock the phone from a remote location, and sometimes even clone it, copying its entire data and identity, without the user even touching the cell phone.
This may be the first you’re hearing of it, but juice jacking has been a risk for several years now now. And in case you don’t think your cell phone has any incriminating data worth stealing, think again. Approximately 60 million U.S. smart phone users used some form of mobile payment on their devices in 2019, whether it’s Apple Pay, Chase Pay, Google Pay, Samsung Pay or a similar platform.
Your phone also tracks the number of steps you take each day; stores all of your contacts, messages and emails; holds your complete travel itinerary; captures all of your photos and videos; and is equipped with GPS that broadcasts your exact location and activity in real time, all the time.
So what’s a desperate traveler with a dying cell phone to do? Here are a few practical ways to get the juice you need without getting jacked along the way:
Bring your own AC adapter
That one tiny brick that comes with your cell phone and plugs into a standard 110v outlet is all you need to keep your data safe. You can also buy a heavy-duty one for powering multiple cables at once. Yes, it requires one extra step to pull out and fit onto your USB cable, but it’s worth it. When traveling, keep all your chargers, cords and bricks in one place in your carry-on to make it easy to find what you need.
Carry a portable charger
These aren’t just for music festivals and camping trips. Mophie, Anker, Jackery and a number of other reputable brands make portable batteries that range from the size of a tube of lipstick to bricks that can power several laptops for one to two full charges. (Some even come with bonus flashlights!) Yes, they are additional weight and hassle but again, protecting your data is worth it.
Charge your phone from your laptop
If you can’t find your AC adapter and don’t have a portable battery, try plugging your USB cable into your own laptop. This isn’t the best solution but will work just fine for you to get enough charge to hail an Uber or pull up your digital boarding pass.
Use a data blocker
This simple USB device does exactly what its name suggests, sitting between the charging outlet and your cell phone to prevent malware from sneaking through. It costs about $6 on Amazon, or you can buy a five-pack for your family for about $28.
If prompted, don’t grant access to your cell phone
This may seem like a no-brainer, but never allow anyone or anything you don’t trust to access your phone. Sometimes when you plug your phone into a public charging station, you’ll see a pop-up that asks you if you’d like to trust the computer it’s connected to. Always say no.
Featured photo by Getty Images.
Welcome to The Points Guy!
Earn 90,000 bonus miles after you spend $3,000 in purchases within the first three months of card membership. Plus, earn a $200 statement credit after your first Delta purchase within the first three months. Offer ends 7/28/21.
With Status Boost™, earn 10,000 Medallion Qualification Miles (MQMs) after you spend $25,000 in purchases on your Card in a calendar year, up to two times per year getting you closer to Medallion Status. Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels, 2X Miles at restaurants and at U.S. supermarkets and earn 1X Mile on all other eligible purchases. Terms Apply.
- Limited Time Offer: Earn 90,000 Bonus Miles after spending $3,000 in purchases on your new Card in your first 3 months and a $200 statement credit after you make a Delta purchase with your new Card within your first 3 months. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Limited Time Offer: Plus, get a 0% intro APR on purchases for 12 months from the date of account opening, then a variable 15.74%-24.74%. Offer expires 7/28/2021.
- Accelerate your path to Medallion Status, with Status Boost®. Plus, in 2021 you can earn even more bonus Medallion® Qualification Miles (MQMs) to help you reach Medallion Status.
- Earn 3X Miles on Delta purchases and purchases made directly with hotels.
- Earn 2X Miles at restaurants worldwide, including takeout and delivery and at U.S. supermarkets.
- Receive a Domestic Main Cabin round-trip companion certificate each year upon renewal of your Card. *Payment of the government imposed taxes and fees of no more than $75 for roundtrip domestic flights (for itineraries with up to four flight segments) is required. Baggage charges and other restrictions apply. See terms and conditions for details.
- Enjoy your first checked bag free on Delta flights.
- Fee Credit for Global Entry or TSA Pre✓®.
- Enjoy an exclusive rate of $39 per person per visit to enter the Delta Sky Club® for you and up to two guests when traveling on a Delta flight.
- No Foreign Transaction Fees.
- $250 Annual Fee.
- Terms Apply.
- See Rates & Fees