Charging and travel: 5 malware mistakes most people make

Jan 14, 2024, 5:00 AM

Man sits in airport chair as he charges his cellphone....

When phone batteries hit the low point during travels, follow these rules to stay malware-free. (Pexels Photos)

(Pexels Photos)

The airports? Crazy. The weather? Unpredictable. Travel is tough enough … and then your phone dies. Those charging kiosks in airports, hotels and malls can be big timesavers. Their owners promise they’re safe, but the FBI disagrees — and so do I.

Welcome to the newest phase of juice jacking. The phenomenon has been around for more than ten years. Hackers use public phone charging to upload malware to your devices. Then, they ransom your phone or steal your passwords.

Have no fear. When your batteries hit the low point in your travels, follow these rules to keep you and your family malware-free.

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Don’t use public USBs – just outlets

Fortunately, actual cases of juice-jacking are rare or nonexistent in America. But they can happen through USB connections. How can you avoid malware? If a kiosk has actual power outlets to charge your phone with your adapter, there’s no fear of hacking.

For 100% protection, stay away from USB ports of any size, especially when traveling overseas. While USB standards are international, foreign hackers can target popular hotel room USB ports to steal data, even if you’re not using a kiosk.

Don’t use a cable at all

Keep up with the Komandonians and use wireless charging pads instead of USBs when possible. More and more public kiosks are using wireless charging. This method doesn’t exchange data directly with your phone, so it’s virus-free by default.

Don’t use a data cable

If you’re desperate for juice, use a USB connection safely with the right cable. Pack a charge-only cable for your trip. They’re cheap, compact and don’t allow for data transfer. Come to think of it, that’s more of a “do.”

Don’t choose the ‘trust’ option

Newer phones are smart enough to be wary of an unknown USB connection. (Some humans could learn a thing or two). They’ll ask if you want to “trust this device” or “share data.”

Always say “No” to these options when traveling! Both allow data communication between your phone and the charging hardware, which may have implanted malware. Choose the “charge-only option.” If that’s not available, keep walkin’.

FYI: This works with most phones that are a few years old or newer. It may not offer the choice if you have a particularly old phone.

Don’t forget your external battery

They’re slim and durable, and you’ll never regret packing them. Drop your external battery into a suitcase side pocket or laptop bag and keep it close. Remember to charge it back up when you stop at a hotel or airport, and you’re good to go.

Going on a big trip?

I really, really suggest checking out my recommendations for international charging adapters before you leave, as well as my travel prep cheat sheet. Now you’re ready to travel in style and stay safe!

Keep your tech-know going

My popular podcast is called “Kim Komando Today.” It’s a solid 30 minutes of tech news, tips, and callers with tech questions like you from all over the country. Search for it wherever you get your podcasts. For your convenience, hit the link below for a recent episode.

PODCAST PICK: $661K bank scam, malware targeting kids & FB Marketplace pro tips

Plus, I chat with Professor Scott Galloway about his views that Gen Z should be educated on mating dynamics — especially with sexbots on the rise. I’ll also show you how to spot phony retail sites, introduce a woman who turns her dating app matches into music and introduce you to ChatGPT Plus’s file analysis tool.

Check out my podcast “Kim Komando Today” on Apple, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or your favorite podcast player.

Listen to the podcast here or wherever you get your podcasts. Just search for my last name, “Komando.”

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Charging and travel: 5 malware mistakes most people make