What is Juice Jacking?

If you travel – anywhere – your connected devices risk hacking. People who want illicit access to your data and accounts are always looking for new ways to steal information or wreak havoc through malware. Travel presents particular dangers because most of us are too casual about connecting to free Wi-Fi networks and fail to protect our data adequately.

Smartphones, computers, and tablets are all targets for data theft, which can take many forms. Juice jacking refers to the need to recharge batteries with an electrical connection (“juice”). There are several ways that hackers can take advantage of those innocently seeking a power boost while away from home.

juice jacking

Types of Juice Jacking

Airports are a typical place for juice jacking. When travelers need to charge their devices, they may reach for free charging cables without thinking of the possible dangers.

Public charging centers are prime places for juice jacking, including the following scenarios:

  • Hackers may replace the free charging cables in a public place with their hardware. These infected cables provide hackers a direct connection to plugged-in phone and tablet data ports, allowing the transfer of malware or downloads of important information. This stolen data can be used to assume the owner's identity or hack into and drain financial accounts or business information.
  • Charging centers may be compromised so that cables insert malware into devices when connected for charging. This form of hacking is possible through infected hardware or by hacking the charging station's internet connection.
  • Malware infection introduced through juice jacking may be spread to other devices via Bluetooth or directly when more equipment is plugged into personal charging cords.
  • Malware introduced via a charging cable may lock up the infected phone, rendering it useless. Hackers may take advantage of the situation to demand a ransom for unlocking the phone or take over the phone entirely, hacking into accounts using two-factor authentication sent via text messages.

How to Prevent Juice Jacking

Keeping your devices secure helps you prevent intrusion into your accounts, personal information theft, and data corruption. There are simple ways to avoid juice jacking, including:

  • Bring your charging cables and wall adapter rather than using a public charging station.
  • If you have to use a public charging station, slide a cable condom onto the connection to prevent data theft.
  • Using cables that only charge and do not transfer data may protect your devices from juice jacking.
  • Be prepared for low battery situations by carrying a battery pack.

Other Considerations to Keep in Mind

While juice jacking generally requires a physical connection to a USB port, many other hackers are looking for ways to access the trove of personal and business information stored on devices. Follow these guidelines to protect yourself:

  • Avoid public Wi-Fi, and turn off automatic connections to prevent data siphoning. Hackers set up fake Wi-Fi connections that masquerade as a business’s Wi-Fi with a similar name.
  • Turn off Bluetooth connectivity, which may become a portal for a hacker to enter your device.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to encrypt your data and disguise it by routing it through remote servers.
  • Periodically erase your browsing history to prevent personal searches and data from falling into the hands of hackers.
  • Keep your apps tended by running regular updates or allowing updates to run. In addition, remove unused apps from your smartphone. App software may develop issues over time, leaving your phone and millions of others vulnerable to hacking. Updates reduce security gaps in software that hackers can exploit.
  • Closely examine unfamiliar text messages and emails that ask you to click on a link to confirm information about your bank PIN, a package delivery, or to release a block on your social security number. The link in these messages often leads to a faked website that will capture your password and PIN and relay the information to hackers who may be able to take over your account. These are called phishing or smishing attacks and are sent by hackers to a broad spectrum of people, hoping to trap just a few who don’t look skeptically at their messages.

Assumptions Are Dangerous When Data is Involved

Vigilance is vital when it comes to hacking. It's never safe to assume that your devices are secure, even those Internet of Things connected appliances like thermostats and lighting systems. Hackers never rest; they always look for opportunities to disrupt and steal data. If they discover one company's phone apps are vulnerable, every phone with a similar app will likely be targeted to exploit that potential goldmine of exposed data.

Do Not Underestimate the Tenacity of Hackers

We must integrate security hygiene into our daily habits and consider layering security. That starts with having essential security software installed and allowing it to make regular scans and updates. Beyond that, a VPN is highly recommended if the devices are used away from home, particularly on unfamiliar Wi-Fi networks.

Security is essential even at home, where people increasingly use interconnected devices that allow them to remotely control some systems such as Wi-Fi doorbells, lighting, thermostats, and security systems. Start with a complex password for your Wi-Fi network at home and ensure that all connected devices have similarly challenging security firewalls.

Since being online is so much a part of our lives, it's easy to let our guard down, but limiting the amount of personal information shared online, whether through social media or gaming, is essential. Hackers can collect those digital breadcrumbs of data (collected through fun surveys or quizzes on social media) to steal your identity or break into accounts using your answers to social media questions. Do not give them anything they can use. Instead, protect your data everywhere you go.