Unmasking juice jacking: the hidden cyber threat lurking at public charging stations

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Imagine this: you’re at an airport, and your phone’s battery is low. You spot a public charging kiosk—perfect, right? Well, not really. Welcome to the world of juice jacking. It’s like pickpocketing in the digital age, which happens while your phone is charging at public stations.

Juice jacking is mostly bad news for people who are always on the move, like travelers or those who do business on the go. Thus, this threat is on the radar of business cybersecurity risks.

While there isn’t much data on juice jacking or recorded events that serve as a precedent, this type of attack is a potential sleeper. Interestingly, earlier in 2023, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) raised awareness about juice jacking, implying that such cases have appeared.

In this article, we’re diving into the not-so-sweet details of juice jacking. We’ll uncover what it is, how the bad actors pull it off, and how you can dodge this sneaky cyber trick. Ready? Let’s jump right in.

What is juice jacking? 

Juice jacking is like a stealthy attack on a phone, tablet, or laptop. It happens when someone plugs a device into a public charging station, and sneaky software slips into it. The goal is to steal information or infect your device with malware.

Which devices are the usual targets? Phones and tablets are the top picks, but really, it’s anything that charges up through a USB port. Think about your devices—smartphones, laptops, and even some e-readers. If it charges using USB, it could be at risk.

Where is this attack most likely to happen? Airports, malls, hotels, gyms, libraries—places with public charging spots that seem helpful when your battery’s running low. Attackers know that when a battery’s dying, people don't think about security—they just want that charge. And that’s when the attackers make their move.

The mechanics of juice jacking

Imagine the charging cable as a two-way street. Typically, we think it’s just there to send power to your device, but it can also transfer data.

But here’s the sneaky part—criminals rig the public charging stations with a so-called "skimming device"—think of it like a hidden microphone, but for data. It’s tucked away inside the USB port, out of sight, waiting to snatch the data. When someone plugs in their device, this skimmer gets busy, extracting information from it or dropping off malware like an invisible spy.

How juice jacking works

Let’s dive deeper. Juice jacking is all about two things: stealing your business data and leaving behind nasty surprises in the form of malware.

Data theft

While a device is charging in a public station, the hidden skimming device gets to work. It discreetly sifts through the device, hunting for valuable information. We're talking emails, contacts, and even confidential business files—the juicy details that you definitely don’t want in the wrong hands. So, while you’re waiting for a battery boost, someone could also be shopping online with your credit card.

Malware installation

Having a device connected and charging, the skimmer plays the role of a malicious invader, planting unwanted malware into your device.

Malware can have many harmful effects, like discreetly spying on your business activities, interfering with your device’s operation, or even locking you out of your own files. It’s like leaving a device with a bug that keeps causing trouble long after you’ve unplugged from the charging station.

Why endpoint security matters

Endpoint security is important in the grand scheme of a business’s digital safety net. It’s like having well-trained guards at every door and window of your office in the digital dimension. 

  • A study by the Ponemon Institute reveals that 68% of organizations faced one or more endpoint attacks, leading to compromised data and/or IT infrastructure. 

  • According to an IBM publication, 79% of business travelers unknowingly risk exposure to attacks by using public USB ports or charging stations.

  • A 2021 global Statista survey on endpoint security visibility revealed that 73% of participants considered isolating the endpoint from the network to be crucial for effectively responding to an endpoint attack. Meanwhile, 38% believed that locking user accounts and revoking credentials were vital actions in responding to such attacks.

In essence, endpoint security is not just a part of the defense; it’s a core element. It helps cement the walls of your business’s cyber fortress, ensuring that data remains protected and business operations flow smoothly without disruptions from sneaky, malicious invaders.

Preventing juice jacking

First, knowing if you’ve fallen victim to juice jacking is tricky. The device might act weird, like slower performance or unexpected pop-ups—signs that your device has been compromised if:

  • The device consumes more battery life than usual

  • It operates at a slower speed

  • Takes longer to load

  • Crashes frequently due to abnormal data usage 

If you spot unfamiliar apps or your battery drains faster than usual, those could be red flags, too. 

Best practices

Protecting your device starts with some simple habits. Keep a personal charger handy—your own charger is always the safest option. Public USB charging stations? Maybe skip those if you can. They’re like candy stores for cybercriminals.

To avoid being juice jacked, follow these tips for protecting your device:

  • Steer clear of public USB charging stations

  • Refuse requests for data transfer

  • Opt for two-factor authentication or biometric login options when possible

  • Bring along a personal portable charger or battery pack with you

  • Use electrical outlets with your personal charging cable and wall charger

Technological solutions

Technology can be your ally here. Consider using USB data blockers—they let you charge without the risk of data transfer. And keep your device’s software updated; it’s like giving the device some armor against malware.

Awareness and training

Knowledge is power. The more people know about these sneaky attacks, the better. Organizations should consider conducting training sessions—they’ll make their defense game stronger. And stay updated—new tricks pop up, and keeping in the loop helps stay one step ahead.

Juice jacking and corporate security

For businesses, juice jacking is a real headache. It’s not just about one device—it could jeopardize the whole company’s data. Especially for traveling employees, staying cautious is key. A simple charge at a public station could turn into a costly data disaster.

Further readings to grow your cyber awareness


What types of business data are most vulnerable during juice jacking?

Any data stored on your device can be at risk. This includes emails, contacts, customer information, and sensitive business documents. Basically, anything you wouldn’t want to fall into the wrong hands.

How can businesses prevent their employees from becoming victims of juice jacking?

Education is key. Make sure employees are aware of the risks associated with using public USB charging stations. Encourage the use of personal chargers and provide USB data blockers as a protective measure.

Are certain types of public charging stations riskier than others?

It’s hard to pinpoint which public charging stations are riskier, as any station could be compromised. However, stations in less secure or highly populated areas may present a higher risk.

What immediate steps should be taken if an employee suspects their device has been juice jacked?

If there is suspicion, immediately stop using the device and disconnect it from networks to prevent potential data transmission. Conduct a thorough security scan, remove unfamiliar apps, and change passwords as a precautionary step.

How can a business assess the security of a public charging station?

It's challenging to assess the security of a public charging station on the spot. Instead, focus on equipping employees with tools and knowledge to avoid risks, such as carrying personal chargers or using USB data blockers.

Should businesses avoid the use of public charging stations altogether?

While it’s not always feasible to avoid public charging stations entirely, minimizing their use and applying protective measures, like using USB data blockers, can help mitigate risks.

Can updated or newer devices still be susceptible to juice jacking?

Yes, even the latest devices can fall victim to juice jacking. Keeping devices updated and using security tools can help protect them, but awareness and caution are crucial.

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