An airport seating bench with USB charging ports available for travelers.
HEakin /
Juice jacking is a USB-based exploit that leverages public charging ports to launch an attack. You can avoid the threat by keeping your devices charged, using special data-blocking cables, and other measures.

Your phone battery is low again, and you’re miles from your charger at home. There’s a public charging kiosk or maybe a USB charging port right at the airport terminal counter you’re sitting at. But is it safe to charge your phone with a public port?

What Exactly Is Juice Jacking?

Juice jacking pops up in the news every few years—like it did again recently when the FBI warned people about the risk—and you might be wondering exactly what it is and whether you should be worried about it.

Whether you have an iPhone or an Android phone, both devices have something in common. The power supply and the data stream pass over the same cable. It doesn’t seem like a big deal at first glance, but it creates a unique attack vector for a malicious user to access your phone during the charging process using hardware or software exploits.

This attack method is known as “juice jacking,” a term coined by security journalist Brian Krebs while writing about the concept in 2011 after seeing a demonstration of the exploit in a compromised charging kiosk at the Defcon security conference.

Since 2011, security researchers have set up a new compromised kiosk at each subsequent Defcon security conference to demonstrate known vulnerabilities and raise public awareness about juice jacking.

Over the years, there have been multiple identified exploits that target USB-based charging and fall under the umbrella of juice-jacking attacks. In 2012, security researcher Kyle Osborn demonstrated a juice jacking attack that could attack an unlocked and tethered phone, stealing data, including Google authentication keys.

A year later, in 2013, Georgia Tech graduate students demonstrated a proof-of-concept attack that could hijack an iOS device over a USB charging cable—the attack was undetectable to iOS and gave the attackers complete access to the device.

In 2014, the researchers that demonstrated the BadUSB attack highlighted how infecting an Android phone to serve as a BadUSB payload to access the user’s personal computer or corporate network later was a plausible attack vector.

In 2016, another proof-of-concept attack was showcased at Defcon that allowed the person in control of the compromised charger to monitor the screen of iOS and Android devices via a screen mirror exploit. So for as long as you were charging your phone at the compromised station, the attacker could watch everything you were doing like they were looking over your shoulder.

An even more concerning exploit was showcased in 2018 by Symantec researchers. The exploit they uncovered started with juice jacking, but persisted even after you disconnected from the compromised charger. They called the attack vector “TrustJacking” because it exploited the handshake between an iOS device and iTunes, allowing the malicious actor to maintain a connection to the iOS device over Wi-Fi even after the device was unplugged.

Should You Be Worried About Juice Jacking?

We’re certainly not alarmists here at How-To Geek, and we always give it to you straight. Currently, juice jacking is a theoretical threat, with no known in-the-wild attacks reported. Security researchers uncover an exploit, and manufacturers patch it up, rinse, and repeat.

The chances that the USB charging ports in the kiosk at your local airport are actually a secret front for a data-siphoning and malware-injecting computer are very low. This doesn’t mean, however, that you should just shrug your shoulders and promptly forget about the very real security risk plugging your smartphone or tablet into an unknown device poses.

Years ago, when the Firefox extension Firesheep was the talk of the town in security circles, it was precisely the largely theoretical but still very real threat of a simple browser extension allowing users to hijack the web-service user sessions of other users on the local Wi-Fi node that led to significant changes.

End users started taking their browsing session security more seriously (using techniques like tunneling through their home internet connections  or connecting to remote VPNs), and major internet companies made major security changes (such as encrypting the entire browser session and not just the login).

In precisely this fashion, making users aware of the threat of juice jacking both decreases the chance that people will be juice jacked and increases pressure on companies to improve security practices.

So our take on the matter? The worst time to find out about an exploit is after you’ve been targeted by the exploit. And the best way to avoid being targeted by an exploit is to engage in best practices that minimize your risk. Juice jacking might not be a widespread (and easily deployed) problem like text message bank fraud scams, but that doesn’t mean you should just dismiss the potential risk altogether.

How to Avoid Juice Jacking Attacks

The best way to avoid ever ending up on the losing side of a juice jacking attempt is to use some simple practices to ensure your phone never has a “naked” interaction with a public charging station.

First, let’s look at some best practices that avoid exposure to insecure ports in the first place, and then some tips for avoiding issues when using a charging station or port.

Keep Your Phone Updated

Before we share any other tips, the best phone security tip in regard to juice jacking (and just about every other smartphone security issue out there) is to keep your phone updated.

As we mentioned above, juice jacking exploits are a real thing, but there are no reports of them being successfully deployed in the wild. When security researchers show off the exploit, it gets patched. You’re not getting the exploit patches if you’re not updating your phone.

Keep Your Device Battery Topped Off

The easiest precaution is to keep your mobile device charged. Make it a habit to charge your phone at your home and office when you’re not actively using it or sitting at your desk doing work.

The fewer times you find yourself staring at a red 3% battery bar when traveling or away from home, the better. Use battery management tips for your iPhone or Android device to extend your time between charges.

Bring a Charger with You

Phone chargers are so small and lightweight that they scarcely weigh more than the USB cable they attach to, and advances in charger technology mean you’re not sacrificing charging speed and power if you go small. Gallium Nitride (GaN) chargers are petite but powerful, you can add a 30W charger to your work or travel bag and not even feel it.

USB C GaN Charger 30W, Anker 511 Charger

Who needs a cruddy public charging port when you've got a 30W fast charger in your bag?

So throw a charger in there to charge your own phone and maintain control over the data port. (And if you’re still using an ancient USB charger from a phone you’ve long since replaced, it’s definitely time to upgrade.)

Carry a Portable Charger

Not many devices have user-swappable batteries these days, so if you want to keep using your device without relying on the charging ports at the airport (or you can’t find a good spot to plug in your personal charger) you’ll need a portable charger.

Anker PowerCore Slim 10000 Portable Charger

This charger has a 10,000mAh capacity, PowerIQ/VoltageBoost for optimized charging, and an ultra-slim profile.

Something inexpensive and compact like the Anker 313 Power Bank should do the trick. With 10,000 mAh of battery life, it will charge your average smartphone completely 2-3 times before running out. That’s more than enough juice to make it through playing on your phone at the airport and the flight itself.

Use a Power-Only Cable or Adapter

Ideally, you never physically tether your phone to a device you don’t have complete control over. But if you use a charging port on a device you don’t control, a good stop-gap measure is to use a cable or USB adapter that interrupts the data connections, leaving only the charging connections available.

Data-blocking USB adapters, also informally called “USB condoms,” are the most convenient way to do it because you can use any of your existing cables with them, and they’ll stop any data connection between the phone and the compromised charging port.

PortaPow USB Data Blocker

This simple data blocking port adapter ensures only power (and not malware!) get sent over your charging cable.

One of the best known companies in the niche market is PortaPow. They have a USB-A to USB-A adapter, a USB-A to USB-C adapter, and USB-C to USB-C adapter. Given that most public charging ports are still USB-A, you’ll want to buy a USB-A to USB-A or C adapter based on your needs.

It’s worth noting that there is one big downside to using a power-only cable or adapter. USB fast-charging standards use the data connection to identify the device and negotiate a charge rate. No data? No negotiation, and the charing rate defaults to the basic USB speed. It’s better than nothing, but it will likely be slower than you’re used to if you normally use a fast charger at home.

Lock or Power Down Your Phone

Don’t use your phone while charging if you want to play it safer with a public charging port. Keep the phone locked or, better yet, power it down.

It’s far better to avoid using an unknown port altogether, but if you do, keeping the phone locked or powered down helps prevent simple exploits that reply on you accepting a connection (or a software exploit that is only available if the phone is unlocked or powered on).

Use Wireless Charging

If your phone supports wireless charging and you are in a location with wireless charging pads thoughtfully embedded in the counter or armrests, you’re in luck.

Wireless charging is inherently data-free, and there is zero risk involved in dropping your phone onto a wireless charging logo on a Starbucks table at the airport.

Ultimately, the best defense against a compromised mobile device is awareness. Keep your device charged, enable the security features provided by the operating system (knowing that they aren’t foolproof and every security system can be exploited), and avoid plugging your phone into unknown charging stations and computers the same way you wisely avoid opening attachments from unknown senders.

The Best Phone Chargers of 2023

TECKNET 65W Three-Port Charger
Best Overall Charger
TECKNET 65W Three-Port Charger
Apple 20W Power Adapter
Best iPhone/iPad Charger
Apple 20W Power Adapter
Amazon Basics 100W Four-Port GaN Wall Charger
Best Wall Charger
Amazon Basics 100W Four-Port GaN Wall Charger
Anker PowerWave 10W Qi-Certified Charger
Best Wireless Charger
Anker PowerWave 10W Qi-Certified Charger
Best Car Charger
Techsmarter 11-Port Charging Station
Best Charging Station
Techsmarter 11-Port Charging Station
Profile Photo for Jason Fitzpatrick Jason Fitzpatrick
Jason Fitzpatrick is the Senior Smart Home Editor at How-To Geek. He has over a decade of experience in publishing and has authored thousands of articles at How-To Geek, Review Geek, LifeSavvy, and Lifehacker. Jason served as Lifehacker's Weekend Editor before he joined How-To Geek.
Read Full Bio »