Charging Your Phone in Public? Watch That Port!

Smartphones have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. Even if it’s just there in case of emergencies, having a charged cellphone can provide a serious sense of security. That’s why, when the battery meter starts to tick down, a cold sense of panic rises in your stomach.

Many public places have begun to adapt to this change, and provide USB ports in addition to electrical outlets. Rather than jockeying with laptop users and carrying bulky outlet converters, smartphone owners can plug directly into the wall.

Sadly, this wonderful public good has become a playground for thieves. When you plug your phone in, scammers can install malicious programs on your phone. These programs report back personal identifiable information that thieves use to commit identity theft. Alternately, thieves can use the connection to your phone to look through your phone’s contents, stealing browser history data — including passwords. It’s called “Juice Jacking,” and it can take as little as three minutes for them to break into your phone wide open.

Use these tips to stay safe and avoid Juice Jackers.

  • Carry (or borrow) a power plug – The easiest way to thwart the scam is to only plug your phone into electrical outlets. There’s no computer on the other side there. The only problem with this option is you have to carry around your own power brick.
  • Pick up a battery – You can also carry your power solutions with you. Advancements in battery technology have made them smaller and more efficient than ever. You can find a battery pack the size of a pen that will refill your smartphone on a full charge. If it’s too much of a hassle to carry around, try keeping one in your glove compartment for emergencies.
  • Conserve your power – The easiest way to avoid using a public charging station is not to need one in the first place. There are several things you can do to save your phone’s charge if it looks like you’re running low. Even doing something like changing your wallpaper to all black will help add precious seconds to your run time.

For slightly more savings, keep your apps updated. Running outdated software could be chewing up your battery life. Similarly, don’t enable auto-update. This can drain data in a hurry while also burning through battery life. Update apps manually when you’re connected to WiFi, or just disable automatic updates if your battery situation is looking dicey.

Obviously, these scammers aren’t everywhere. They choose places where they can do the most damage — airports, coffee shops, shopping malls and other places where people hang out. If you’re at a place you trust, feel free to use the power.