Is Juice Jacking Putting Your Business Travelers at Risk?

By Jessica Sillers

Staying productive on a business travel day is all about making the best use of your time. We’ve talked before about how business travelers can plan to cross tasks off their to-do list during downtime at an airport.

The problem is how to combine productivity with smart security practices. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office warns travelers against “juice jacking,” a scam that targets devices while they’re charging.

What Is Juice Jacking?

Juice jacking is a form of cyberattack that uses a compromised charging station to steal data or infect devices with malware. Airport charging stations are an attractive target for cyber criminals because there’s so much traffic (and the chance, however slim, of stealing valuable data from a top executive or government official).

A rogue computer hidden inside the charging station can access private information on the device or even complete a full backup of all available data. This means you could be unwittingly sharing anything from sensitive work data to private email address and bank account credentials.

How Does Juice Jacking Work?

When you connect a USB cable to the port, only one of the pins inside the mechanism is used to charge the device. Other pins are there to allow data transfers. Depending on your operating system’s settings, you may already have data transfer mode disabled as the default. If data transfers are open, though, your device is potentially at risk for attack.

Data theft and malware installation are the two primary forms of juice jacking attack. An affected charging station can easily be set to rip data or drop malware automatically in seconds, so charging for “just a minute” or taking the chances that the thief isn’t hanging around won’t help you.

How Serious Is This Threat?

The good news about juice jacking is that it doesn’t appear to be a widespread form of criminal activity. The Los Angeles district attorney didn’t report having any cases on file, although there are reportedly several juice jacking cases on the books on the East Coast.

That said, it’s hard to say how many criminals may add this scam to their collection. The proof of concept is sound. Similar scams, like credit card skimmers at gas stations or ATMs, are much more widespread, so it could theoretically be a matter of time before juice jacking gains traction as a form of cyberattack.

Fortunately, a little prevention goes a long way. Keep your business travelers informed about how to protect data on the go, and you can feel confident that you’ve set up a strong defense against juice jacking.

How to Protect Your Devices Against Juice Jacking

A few simple practices in how you use and charge devices on the go can help protect your data against attack.

5 Data Security Tips for Business Travel

1. Use an AC outlet to charge devices. A standard, plug-and-outlet socket won’t allow data transfer the way a USB outlet will. Pack converter plugs for whatever country you may be visiting so you’re not left without a usable cord.

2. Bring an external battery, power bank, or another portable device that you can use to charge your phone.

3. Use a VPN (virtual private network) to add a level of encryption to your wireless connection.

4. Use a USB data blocker, also known as a “juice jack defender” or a USB condom. This is a small device that plugs between your USB cable and the port. It connects the pin responsible for energy charging, but doesn’t connect the data transfer pins, so it effectively disables cyberattack. USB data blockers are easy to find for around $20, so this can be a cost-effective travel security measure.

5. Don’t use charging cables or power banks that are already at the charging kiosk. A cyber criminal can infect the cable to extract data or upload malware to a device you plug in. Just like you wouldn’t open an unexpected email attachment or click a dodgy link, leave strange cables alone.

Work and Travel Smart

Working on the go has its advantages. It’s often tempting to squeeze a little extra productivity in wherever you can. That doesn’t mean working on a travel day is automatically the best option, so consider these strategies.

Finish Work in Advance

Travel is tiring, and opportunities to work are more limited on the road. When possible, figure out a plan with traveling employees so they only need to do light tasks like email, or even get to unplug completely.

Check Out a Business Lounge

Outlets are at a premium in most airports. A business lounge with work desks and plenty of AC outlets is a more secure and productivity-friendly environment than general airport seating areas.

Bring Paper

Reviewing notes or printed slides, or catching up on a few industry articles, can provide helpful context and final prep for a meeting. The benefits of paper include no battery life to worry about and no chance of cybersecurity concerns.

Easy, low-cost data security practices can make a big difference for your cybersecurity and overall peace of mind. Keep your business travelers up-to-date on security best practices, and you can stop worrying about juice jacking.

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