Skip to main content

The Manual may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site.

Why You Should Reconsider Charging Your Phone at the Airport

usb charging port
Smolaw11/Getty Images

The average person travels with a thousand dollars or more in carry-on electronics these days. There’s a reason most of us scurry to find electrical outlets at every layover. It turns out public USB outlets — especially those at airports — aren’t as harmless as you might expect. Now, tech security experts are warning against a new kind of USB hacking called “juice-jacking.”

In November, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office released a video cautioning travelers against USB charger scams. Because USB cables can transfer both power and data, so-called juice-jacking is relatively straightforward. Hackers load malware (like a virus) into USB power outlets at airports, hotel lobbies, or cafes. When an unsuspecting user plugs their device into the outlet directly with a USB cable, that device can become infected. The malicious software can then be used to take control of the device (by locking or “bricking” it to make it unusable) or, worse, to steal sensitive data like passwords, bank account logins, credit card numbers, and more.

#FraudFriday - USB Charger Scam

When The New York Times covered the hacking method last month, news outlets across the country couldn’t wait to reshare it with their readers. After all, the technique is child’s play even for a novice hacker with only a bit of tech-savvy and physical access to the USB port in question. The big question, though, is how likely the average traveler’s devices are to be “jacked.” Sure, it’s possible, but is it likely? Snopes confirms the threat is real but minimal: “While it is technically possible for crooks to steal information or install malware via public USB ports, this practice doesn’t appear to be widespread.”

The two experts interviewed for The New York Times story were unaware of how common the phenomenon is. When TechCrunch followed up with the L.A. District Attorney for comment, the office’s chief prosecutor confirmed “it has ‘no cases’ of juice-jacking on its books, though it said there are known cases on the East Coast. When asked where those cases were, the spokesperson did not know. And when asked what prompted the alert to begin with, the spokesperson said it was part of “an ongoing fraud education campaign.”

usb charging port airport
Smolaw11/Getty Images

However widespread juice-jacking may be, the good news is that it’s easy to defend against. Never use a public USB charging station, but rely instead on AC power outlets. For smartphone users, that just means carrying a standard AC power “cube” to act as an intermediary between their USB cable and any USB outlet. “USB condoms” (we swear, that’s a real thing) that disable the data pins on a standard USB data cable are also available for less than $5. A backup battery is another great alternative: Charge the battery at any AC or USB power outlet, then charge your phone via the battery.

Editors' Recommendations

Mike Richard
Mike Richard has traveled the world since 2008. He's kayaked in Antarctica, tracked endangered African wild dogs in South…
Portland’s VooDoo Doughnut voted most overrated tourist attraction in the world (and we know why)
We welcome you to Portland - and we won't take you to VooDoo, we promise
Austin, Texas USA - January 27, 2020: Selection of donuts on display in a colorful case at Voodoo Doughnuts in a popular specialty doughnut chain shop

 

What was once a Portland novelty has grown into a brand synonymous with the Rose City. En route, VooDoo Doughnut grew a little too big for its own good and lost sight of the same eccentric sweets that made it famous.

Read more
Your travel bag probably doesn’t have an Apple AirTag, but it needs one — here’s why
AirTags are tiny, and make losing baggage almost impossible
Apple AirTags in carrying cases

Anyone who has ever had to replace a lost suitcase full of clothing on vacation understands the hassle it can be. Oh, and don't forget about the shoes, toiletries, and accessories — the cost adds up quickly. Plus, who wants to spend their hard-earned vacation days schlepping to a store to buy a new wardrobe? I feel like I'm not alone in saying that precious time is much better spent enjoying the fruits of your trip planning, relaxing, or exploring. But that's only one of the reasons why every travel bag you have needs an Apple Air Tag.

Whether your wayward bag is buried beneath a massive pile of lost luggage in a foreign airport or accidentally left behind in the back seat of your Uber, tracking an AirTag may be the best bet you have to track it down. The concept is super simple and nearly foolproof. Slip an AirTag in your suitcase, and you'll almost always be able to find out where it is. Above and beyond the obvious, there are plenty of great benefits to keeping an Apple AirTag in each piece of luggage when you travel — both checked bags and carry-ons. 

Read more
Why you should visit the Everglades (and our top tips for a memorable adventure)
Get a taste of Everglades National Park on Loop Road
A view of the swamp

Deep in the heart of Southern Florida runs US 41, also known as the Tamiami Trail. This engineering marvel runs through the swamp, creating the northern border of Everglades National Park, home to many natural areas that feature a variety of outdoor sports including hiking, canoeing, boating, fishing, backpacking, and trail running. The Everglades is an emerald-green natural wonder filled with beauty and wildlife that makes it one of the most iconic places to visit in Florida. 

Located right in the middle, 40 miles west of Miami (ending at the appropriately named Fortymile Bend), is Loop Road, a 20-mile scenic trail that is sure to whet the appetite of any outdoorsman who travels it. Most of the road is unpaved and undeveloped, surrounded on both sides by a sea of green that is home to diverse wildlife. It is a great way to get a taste of the Florida Everglades or start a serious trek into the swamp.

Read more