Juice jacking is a security exploit in which devices are compromised when plugged into an infected USB charging station, port or use an infected charging cable. This type of security exploit takes advantage of the fact that many people need to charge their devices, especially when traveling, and use the provided USB cables to do so. Apart from charging devices, USB cables are also used to sync data which is how attackers are able to take advantage and extract data from devices.
Juice jacking was first introduced at a hacking conference in 2011. At the conference, attendees were offered free charging stations for their phones. When they plugged them in, a message appeared on their phone screen warning them not to trust free charging because it could infect their devices with malicious code.
Continue reading to learn more about juice jacking and how you can keep your devices safe from this security exploit.
How Does Juice Jacking Work?
Juice jacking is considered a hardware-focused Man-in-the-Middle (MITM) attack. For juice jacking to work the attacker has to first use a USB connection to compromise a charging station and infect it with malware. An attacker may also use an infected USB cable and leave it plugged in for an unsuspecting victim who thinks they hit the jackpot with a forgotten cable.
When a person charges their device at the infected charging station or with the infected cable, their device transfers data to the attacker. The attacker can then use this data to target the victim with cyber attacks or use the data they already have to compromise the victim’s accounts, steal money or steal the victim’s identity.
Juice jacking works because of how USB connectors are made. USB connectors were made not only with the ability to charge devices but also to transfer data. This is how you’re able to transfer data from your phone to a computer using a USB cable.
What Can Juice Jacking Do to My Device?
Here are a few of the things juice jacking can do to your device.
Steal your data
The main goal of juice jacking is to steal data from a victim’s device so the attacker can use it for their own malicious purpose. When a juice jacking attack happens, victims aren’t aware that the data on their device is being stolen. The amount of data an attacker is able to get away with depends on how long the victim leaves their device plugged into the compromised charging station or cable. An attacker may be able to make a full backup of the data on a victim’s device if plugged in long enough.
Plugging your device into an infected charging station may also infect your device with malware – malicious software that is used to steal data. Depending on the type of malware that is installed on your device, it’s able to do different things. For example, spyware is a type of malware that is used to spy on victims. Keylogging software is another type of malware that is able to track your keystrokes and is used to determine the sensitive data you type such as your passwords and credit card numbers.
Having malware installed on your device may do more than just steal data, it can also stop your device from working properly since an attacker will be able to manipulate it.
Disable your phone
Depending on the goal of an attacker, they can also install malware on your device through juice jacking and lock you out of your device. This gives an attacker full control over your device.
Cause your device to infect other devices
Not only can juice jacking harm your device and data, but it can also harm other devices. Let’s say your device becomes infected with malware because of juice jacking. One type of malware that can be installed on your device is one that is able to infect other devices. For example, if you plug your infected phone into a charging station, other phones connected to that charging station can become infected as well. This is also known as a multi-device attack.
Because victims of juice jacking are unaware that their device is infected, they begin to infect other devices without even knowing.
How to Protect Your Device Against Juice Jacking
Here are a few ways you can protect your devices from juice jacking.
Avoid public charging stations
One of the best ways to protect yourself from juice jacking is by not using public charging stations at all. This would require you to make sure your phone is always charged or bring a portable battery with you at all times.
Carry a portable battery
Carrying a portable battery with you at all times ensures that you never have to rely on charging stations or public USB outlets. A portable battery is one of the best investments you can make to keep yourself safe from juice jacking.
Use AC power outlets
If you don’t have a portable battery with you, it’s best to plug your device into an AC power outlet rather than a USB outlet. This will require carrying a USB cord and charging block with you. AC power outlets are the standard three-prong outlets you most likely use on a daily basis. When you plug in your device, make sure you’re using your own charger to ensure that it’s not compromised.
Always select the prompt “charge only” or “don’t trust”
Using an AC power outlet may not be possible if all you have is your USB cable. In this case, when you plug in your phone, a prompt will appear asking you if you want your data to sync or if you just want to charge your phone. Make sure you always select the “charge only” option.
Different prompts appear on different devices. Some devices like iPhones will ask you if you want to trust the device you’ve plugged your phone into. In this case, you would choose the option “don’t trust.” Choosing these options prevents your data from syncing, which prevents attackers from being able to extract your data. However, this doesn’t stop attackers from infecting your device with malware.
Keep in mind that in order to protect your device from juice jacking, using a USB port or cable should be your last resort.
Invest in a USB condom
A USB condom, also called a USB data blocker, is a small tool that adds a layer of protection between your device and the charging point that you’re attaching it to. A USB condom essentially prevents data from being transmitted back and forth. USB condoms are cheap solutions that protect your devices from being infected with malware and prevent your data from being stolen.
Don’t use lost or unverified chargers
Finding a charging cable may seem like you’ve hit the jackpot, but it could also mean that you may become a victim of juice jacking. If you find a lost charging cable, never use it and don’t take it with you because there’s always the possibility that it has been compromised.
If someone you don’t know offers you a free charger, it’s best to not use it as this could also make you a victim of juice jacking.
Keep Your Devices and Data Safe From Juice Jacking
Juice jacking can occur in any public place, such as in airports and hotel lobbies, which is why it’s important to stay vigilant about how you choose to charge your devices when traveling.
Knowing about the latest cyber threats can make all the difference in keeping yourself and your data safe. Make sure you’re keeping up to date with the latest cybersecurity news to know what you should be on the lookout for and how to keep yourself protected.