How hackers can get your phone data from public USB chargers and what you can do to stop them

Reporter: Rich Kolko
Published: Updated:
Public USB charges (WINK News)

It’s easy, it’s convenient, but it could be a gateway to hackers! We’re talking about USB chargers meant to give you a quick battery boost on the go.

But, those charging stations could get hacked. It’s called “juice jacking,” when the bad guys slip in devices on the other side of these USB chargers.

You plug in and your data is in their hands. But we found a solution that will still let you charge your phone and sleep well at night.

You’ll find them at bars, restaurants, hotels and airports, but it’s what’s on the other end of these chargers that could end up zapping your personal data.

“There is no way to look at a plug and know if the other side of that is going to a hacker’s computer,” said Jason Hendrix, who was traveling from Denver.

Cybersecurity experts at Cigent spend their days detecting ways hackers target us.

“What happens with juice jacking is somebody plugs into a USB outlet thinking that they’re charging their phone and when that happens, somebody actually goes into their phone and takes data,” said Evan Lutz.

We found a device called a data blocker that promises to keep the current flowing while cutting off the hackers.

Lutz put ours to the test. First, he plugs his phone directly into his computer’s USB port.

“So here you can see we don’t have any additional driver devices that I can pull files from as soon as I plug it in. Without the data blocker, it shows up and it’s now accessible for me to access the files on my cell phone,” Lutz said.

Then, he uses the data blocker.

“When we plug in the data blocker, the phone no longer shows up as a drive that I can access, but my phone is still charging,” he said.

So here’s how it works. Lutz sent us pictures of the inside of a USB charger. The pins on the outside are needed for charging and the ones on the inside are for data transfer.

The data blocker device doesn’t allow access to those data transferring pins, effectively blocking anyone from having access to your phone.

Something travelers always in need of a good charge enjoyed hearing.

So where can you find one of these devices? We found ours online for $7 but if you don’t want to make the purchase, just stay away from public USB ports or use a traditional outlet plug for a charger.

We’ve answered even more questions for you in the Q & A below:


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