Picture this: You’re wearily dragging your suitcase through yet another crowded airport on yet another business trip when you glance down to check your email and realize things are about to get even worse—because your phone is at 3 percent. Panic sets in. If your phone dies, how will you get your boarding pass, email your boss, or, most importantly, entertain yourself on your six hour flight? You’re minutes away from a full-blown panic attack until you see it: The public charging station.
But wait—before you rush over to excitedly plug in your phone, know that it could be too good to be true. Because according to some experts, public charging stations aren’t as safe as you think. Here’s what you need to know about the dangers lurking behind that USB port, and how you can charge your phone safely.
The dangers of public charging stations
Sure, that USB charging station in the middle of the airport is convenient—but it’s also a great opportunity for hackers to infect your phone with malware. “The best thing about USB (and Lightning ports on iPhones) is that it is a one-stop-shop for both charging your device and getting data on and off when you need it,” our executive editor, TJ Donegan explains. “Unfortunately, that also makes it the worst thing about USB, from a security standpoint. As the latest security alerts prove, USB cables and chargers are like chewing gum—if you find it laying around in public, don’t use it. It’s not free candy.”
The Los Angeles District Attorney recently warned that charging your phone via those public USB ports can lead to “juice jacking.” That’s when hackers use the connection to transmit dangerous malware onto your device and steal your personal information or data.