I am not a super spy, with secrets to keep. But I also don’t really want to get my devices all gunked up with the viruses that governments are using to go after each other.
I recently dove into the research on the perils of using public USB charge points in airports, trains, buses, libraries, and other locations. And now I will never use one again, at least not without the precautions described below.
Update History of This Article
The Dangers of Juice Jacking from Plugging into a Public USB Outlet
For most of the past decade — that is, as long as public USB outlets have been popping up all over — security researchers have been warning not to use them.
Documented possible lines of attack have come from multiple security experts and sources, including Symantec, Wall of Sheep at Defcon, and Krebs on Security.
The researchers have demonstrated how these attacks can lead to:
- Data theft
- Device tracking
- Video jacking (recording what is on your screen while charging)
- Trustjacking (allowing future access to the device via WiFi, once access is approved via the cable)
Government and business employees carrying sensitive data are regularly warned not to use public USB charge points, and also not to use others’ cables or of course USB drives found lying around.
How to Avoid Juice Jacking
The obvious remedy is simply don’t plug your device into public USB outlets. We have long recommended the two devices below in any case for most travellers as they are incredibly convenient for power on the go.
Charging from Standard Public Electric Sockets is Fine
The charger that came with your phone or other device is fine — just don’t use an unknown cable.
If you’re travelling to a country with funky juice holes, you can be prepared for any of them with the universal power plug adapter that we recommend, below (and yes, we’ve tested out tons of them before deciding on this one).
Avoid Public Charge Points Altogether by Carrying a Small Spare Battery
On trains and planes you may not have a standard plug outlet, or any outlet at all for that matter, even the USB outlets that are the fraught subject of this article. But we’ve got a solution for that too; it’s a battery with a USB-C (and double standard USB-A) out that can fast-charge phones many times over.
If I’m going somewhere for a few days and there aren’t a lot of outlets around, I often end up just recharging my phone repeatedly from this battery and not even bothering to scrounge for an outlet. Even then, I’ll only use up half of its power.
A Final Option If You Really Want to Use USB Charge Points: The USB Condom
I don’t have a need for this since I use the devices above anyhow, but if you want something even smaller, or really love charging at USB points, this is the protective device for you.
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To be honest, most of the USB charging points I’ve seen when traveling – in hotels, coffee joints or airports – have been destroyed by people angrily plugging their cables in backward! For that matter, most outlets you can find in a public place are so worn from use that your power adaptor will just drop out from its own weight, leaving the portable battery the only reasonable choice these days. 🙁