Beware: Why You Shouldn't Use Public Phone Chargers
21 Oct 2017 17:37:54
Once viewed as a luxury item, cell phones are now nearly ubiquitous. Studies show that 95% of all American adults own a cell phone, and almost 80% own a smartphone.
Americans have also grown more dependent on their cell phones. We use our phones to call, text, check email, watch videos, and surf the web. All of that activity can quickly drain a phone's battery.
For this reason, there has been an increased demand for easy access to phone chargers on the go. Airports, buses, bars, and even parks now have charging stations where folks can juice up their devices.
But while charging your phone on the go may seem convenient, it also comes with serious risks. Are the dangers worth the benefit on those extra hours of battery life? Let's take a closer look to find out.
What Makes Public Phone Chargers Dangerous?
When the average person sees a public charger, they likely do not see it as a potential threat. After all, public outlets look just like the outlets at your home, so how risky can they be? The problem is that public USB charging ports are at risk of attacks from hackers.
The USB cable that comes with your phone has two functionalities: getting power, and transferring data. If you've ever plugged your phone into the USB drive on your computer, you've seen firsthand how this works.
This can be a convenient way to download music onto your phone or to back up data from your phone onto a computer or external hard drive. But if you use your USB cable to charge your phone in a public port, hackers can access that port and extract data from your phone.
How Widespread is This Problem?
Of course, just because hackers can compromise a public outlet doesn't mean that they necessarily have done so. Is this practice really prevalent enough to be concerned about?
It appears to be so.
For instance, just last year, the Federal Trade Commission advised consumers not to plug their phones into rental cars, as these outlets can also be compromised.
And, as of last year, estimates indicated that close to 1 million Android phones have already been hacked. Some users may not even know that their device has been compromised.
What Happens to Your Data?
Some folks may wonder what the big deal is about data security. Maybe you think that, even if your data were to be hacked, there really isn't anything very interesting on your phone for hackers to access.
Unfortunately, in most cases, this just isn't true. Even if you think that your phone's contents are pretty boring, there are risks to having your data compromised.
A common approach that modern hackers are using is to hold a hacked device ransom. With this technique, a hacker breaks into your device and then locks it so you can no longer access it. Then, they refuse to return access to the device until a certain amount of money is paid.
Also, don't forget that your online accounts, like email and social media, are often saved to your phone. This means that a hacker can get into these accounts and hold them hostage and well.
Many folks do not realize that private information like their address, credit card information and even their social security number are stored on their phones. With this information, a hacker could easily steal your identity.
For instance, if you've ever used your phone to pay for something, as with Uber, or Google Pay, or PayPal, you've likely entered your credit card information. Additionally, some folks are even logged into their credit cards or banks through apps on their phone. This makes their data even more accessible.
Or, perhaps you have used your phone to order something online and had that item shipped to your house. In this case, you will have entered your address, which hackers will now have access to.
In addition to the danger of holding your data hostage or stealing your identity, there is also the risk of having your private information visible to others. While this may not harm you directly, it can feel extremely violating, and can lead to exploitation.
For example, if you or someone you know has a young child, you know how many pictures parents keep of their kids on their phones. Through a public charging port, a hacker could access these photos and then sell them online.
It's bad enough to think that someone with bad intentions could have access to your children's photos. But if they can access other information on your phone, they may also be able to identify where your child lives, goes to school or plays sports. This could put your family at a greater risk.
Alternatives to Public Phone Chargers
Even knowing the dangers of using a public outlet to charge your phone, the temptation is still there.
Smartphone users often complain that battery life is the first thing to go as a phone starts getting older. Also, if you spend a lot of time out, you may go several hours before you return to your home and phone chargers.
Luckily, there are other options for charging on the go. For instance, you could invest in a portable power bank, which will allow you to charge your phone in a safe way.
You could also consider getting a fast-charging phone cable. This way, even if you are only home for a little bit before you go out, you will be able to get your phone to a complete charge.
Protecting Your Data by Avoiding Public Chargers
While it may be convenient to charge up your phone while waiting for a bus or sitting in a bar, it's just not worth risking your data. After all, we keep a lot of sensitive information on our phones.
What do you think? Would you use public phone chargers, even knowing their risks? Let us know in the comments.