Data at Risk: The New Mobile Security Threat


(Image: Everything I Do/Shutterstock)

(Image: Everything I Do/Shutterstock)

We have been there, cell phone is dying, and we desperately need a charge. We spot a charging station in a train station or restaurant and go over to juice up for the remainder of our day without ever thinking we just compromised all the data on the phone.

As we all become more aware of the places our data can be stolen or lost, there is yet one more to add to the list, public charging stations. These seemingly innocent lifesavers can be easily manipulated to get all the data on the phone or implant ransomware or spyware on the phone. Most malicious software only needs minutes to access the phone and get data or implant tracking software.

Charging stations are ubiquitous in airports, malls restaurants, and train stations as we are all dependent on our devices with their fleeting battery life, we often use these stations when caught with fading battery life. However, none of the security software developers or the phone manufacturers currently have a solution to this issue or a way to alert a user that a problem may exist at a charging station.

Using both the cord and the station itself presents risks to users. The cord that is used to charge the phone is also used to transmit data. Hence, the cord can be the source of hacking or implantation of a virus or other malware. This so-called "juice jacking" has been happening to unsuspecting consumers for years, but many are unaware of how their phone might have become compromised, or how their data was stolen. Some hacking uses HDMI readers that can capture every image on the phone, including visited websites such as your passwords for financial sites, etc. The readers can also access documents you might have saved on your phone. The data might be used or aggregated then sold on the black market to the highest bidder. A consumer may be hacked at a single charging station and then become a victim months later.

For corporations, these risks are increased since employees may compromise the organization and its infrastructure through an infected device. The implications can be magnified if the hackers gain access to corporate portals and sensitive client information. Few businesses warn their employees about these risks or provide battery backups, making the chances of compromise significant.

Most consumers are completely unaware of the risk of using public charging stations and cords. Experts recommend that you always use your own cord to avoid risks and carry a portable battery pack to eliminate risks altogether.

Have you ever used a public charging station? Were you aware that your data could be stolen from your phone or that your phone could become infected? Would you use a public charging station in the future knowing this?

Maryam Donnelly, VP Marketing Services, Impact Marketing

Maryam Donnelly is Vice President of Marketing Services at Impact Marketing. She has spent more than 15 years leading marketing strategy, communications, product marketing, market research, and business development at Fortune 500 companies including Prudential Insurance, Automatic Data Processing, and Travelport (formerly Cendant). She has been a principal at Impact Marketing, a boutique marketing services company based in the New York metro area, for the past five years. Impact Marketing provides the spectrum of businesses with strategic marketing consulting services including marketing planning, marketing communications, marketing management, and analysis. Maryam holds a BBA and MBA in marketing from Hofstra University. She can be reached at maryam@feeltheimpactnow.com.

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Re: Portable Chargers
  • 6/2/2017 4:58:30 AM
NO RATINGS

Lydon writes:

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I'll be watching you

How true the poem is. 

I recall after a decade ago I used an ordinary mobile phone (not smart) while riding on a train.  After the train stopped to pick up passengers, My phone's screen behaved strangely.  The screen continue to jump up and down when a passenger got on the train.  It seemed as the train slowly approached the train station, he used his laptop while siiting on a bench to detect any WiFi in the air.  Whe he got on the train, he didn't turn off his laptop.  Out of the corner of my eye, he sat down and plugged the laptop into an outlet to so some work. Of course I immediately turned off my device.

 

 

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 6/1/2017 10:57:39 PM
NO RATINGS

..

SaneIT warns (as I also quoted in a previous comment)

Well, here's the bad news...the NSA won't have an issue with accessing your netbook or cellphone and yes there are exploits that run over that 120VAC line.  This is is years old but because cabling inside a laptop is not shielded the signals leak into the AC power line with every keypress.  Someone sitting with a device plugged into the same circuit that you are charging your netbook on could pick up keystrokes with some fairly inexpensive hardware. 

I dunno about aircraft, but on most Amtrak trains and I think many intercity motor coaches (buses) you can plug into 120VAC outlets adjacent to every seat. I would have no doubt these are all on the same circuit, maybe throughout the train (they're all powered from the power plant in the locomotive). So even without Wifi a very savvy hacker could sit there recording all your keystrokes as you're merrily keyboarding while traveling along ...

 

Every breath you take
Every move you make
Every bond you break
Every step you take
I'll be watching you

Every single day
Every word you say
Every game you play
Every night you stay
I'll be watching you

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/30/2017 3:51:00 PM
NO RATINGS

I believe it helps that I don't use any banking or pay apps on my phone.  They can't steal data that isn't there.  I admit that their are many people who make good use of those apps. But I'm never far from a computer and if I have to I can download the app and delete it later.

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/30/2017 1:59:55 PM
NO RATINGS

Seth, I can't see how a phone that is turned off while charging can be vulnerable. I've always bought and carried a spare battery for every phone that I've ever owned. Not necessarily for security reasons but mostly convenience.

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/29/2017 7:34:01 PM
NO RATINGS

I wonder if making sure the phone is off while charging will prevent data from being downloaded.   Also, if phones had a charge only setting that would help.

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/17/2017 11:46:16 AM
NO RATINGS

I live in  a smaller town and the few places I go for wifi are probably unlikely to have folks trying to intercept my data. I've not used the charging stations but that is an interesting warning to watch out for, and I suspect even with one's own cord there's proabably a way to get into the device even so, but probably very unlikely at this point.

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/15/2017 9:12:02 PM
NO RATINGS

..

JMyerson writes

I don't bring my business computer to a coffee shop. I prefer to read The Wall Journal and The New York Times in print.

I read the NYT daily online and the WSJ when I get a link. I often don't read the entire article so I miss some important stuff. I find reading from a computer screen laborious.  I suspect you are reading your articles more fully because print media are more user-friendly. My perception, anyway.

On using my laptop in public locations (coffeeshops, hotels, etc.) ... probably somewhat dangerous, although I never do "sensitive" transactions like banks or credit cards. But I do access Email. However, with https-type connection.

..

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/15/2017 6:11:36 PM
NO RATINGS

@Broadway, I don't bring my business computer to a coffee shop. I prefer to read The Wall Journal and The New York Times in print.

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/15/2017 6:01:52 PM
NO RATINGS

Sane my understanding is that there is less risk from that type of activity if you are using your own cord. However, anything on a public non-secured WifI can be intercepted there are services you can use that will secure your wifi activity regardless of location. Be Safe.

Re: Portable Chargers
  • 5/13/2017 10:38:06 PM
NO RATINGS

Is there some safety in only wasting time on your laptop in a coffee shop or hotel lobby? No checking bank accounts or paying your credit card. No typing extensive work emails on your personal computer. No secret IM chats with your many hidden amores. Just surfing around the web for stupid videos. Posting pics of your lunch to Facebook. And reading Teen People. Is there any risk to that on a public wi-fi, plugged into a public outlet?

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