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Why the Warnings of Airport Juice Jacking Are Overblown at Best

If you have been keeping up with the latest tech news, you’ve likely have heard multiple warnings of a new hacking trend called juice jacking. Multiple reports have warned the general public to stay away from public charging stations, like the ones you find in airports.

Juice jacking occurs when an attacker compromises a USB port, which can deliver both data and power, to steal information from phones plugged into it.

Despite the inundation of warnings for this new supposed trend, the concerns are mostly baseless.

While it is certainly possible in a technical sense, juice jacking does not seem to be a major issue. In fact, none of the agencies or media outlets reporting on it can point to a single case of juice jacking in the real world.

While agencies and news outlets like the FBI, FCC, The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, and more are warning of juice jacking, most cybersecurity experts don’t consider it a threat to the general public.

These warnings of juice jackings are akin to warning people that someone could poison the food at a buffet except juice jacking is much more difficult and less harmful. Sure, it’s possible. But is it really something to worry about?

If you happen to be the target of nation-state hackers, you should probably use your own charger. However, there doesn’t seem to be a real threat for most people.

Fact-checker Snopes believes that the FBI warning, part of what sparked the recent craze, was simply a public service announcement based on old information.

Juice jacking is incredibly difficult to pull off. Modern phones employ a litany of security measures to prevent attacks like these. However, there are ways to break some of these measures, as shown by the mobile device forensics company Grayshift.

Grayshift developed a device called a GrayKey to sell to law enforcement that can pull data from locked phones. GrayKeys aren’t magic wands, however, and still take hours if not days to crack passwords. They are also inordinately expensive, costing around $30,000 each.

The Origins of Juice Jacking

Juice jacking was first experimented with at the hacker convention, Defcon. Reporter Brian Krebs discovered that attendees created a fake charging hub that would bypass the minimal security features of the day’s smartphones and steal their data.

This was done in good fun, as Defcon attendees are invited to perform (friendly) hacks on others during the conference.

Since 2011, Google and Apple dramatically improved security measures on Android and iOS devices, making juice jacking extremely impractical.

If you are worried about your data being stolen, especially if it’s extremely valuable, you may want to bring your own charger just in case. While juice jacking is unlikely, it remains possible and using your own charger is an easy solution.

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