Plug with Caution! How to Stop Hackers from Stealing More than Battery Power

By on Sep 13, 2016

There’s nothing like that stressful moment when you look to your phone and see a red battery and a low digit—you need to find a charger, stat! Let your device die, and bid a temporary goodbye to your alarm, wallet, and notepad. With every message, refresh, and alert, our mobile devices consume tons of energy and are dying like never before. Desperate times call for desperate measures—but always use caution when charging.

Outside of the charger that came along with your device, there are mobile charging stations, knockoff accessories galore, and the ability to plug your gadget into another piece of technology. A low battery is a pain, and sometimes any option seems like a good option. We’re here to tell you that there’s no such thing as being too picky with how you recharge your mobile device. Carefree charging can leave your device, and your data, at risk.

If you’ve traveled lately, you’ve probably seen the tell-tale signs of a mobile charging station. Imagine 10 people sitting cross-legged on the floor, cords wrapping around them like webs. No, they’re not hunting for Pokémon; they’re claiming their fair share of free energy! These stations have been popping up at airports, libraries, cafes, and public transit hubs. Heck, hunting for a plug is almost as important as catching your flight these days! Spotting one is like stumbling upon an oasis; but before you plug in and rejoice, do you ever stop and wonder “is this safe?” Here’s why you should consider that whenever you connect a USB to your device, you’re swapping your data like hot cakes.

If there are no charging kiosks around, powering up via standard USB connector is probably your go-to move—simply plug your mobile device charger into a computer and you’re good to go! But this option isn’t without risks. Upon connecting, devices often go into transfer mode and third parties could extract data remotely; including device type, serial number, and chip ID. These details can provide hackers enough information to access your internal data.

Aside from stealing your data, criminals can load malicious programs (which reside on the computer) onto your device. You can hope that your device is safe, but you never know what could be lurking in the background, like malware downloaded via infected files. What’s even sketchier is using someone else’s computer to charge your device.

Next time you need a charge, keep these tips in mind:

  • Bring your own charger: The safest route is using the charger you know and love, plugged into a wall outlet. Portable chargers are also a handy alternative, and can be used when you’re on the go. Be sure to read seller reviews, and only go with a brand you trust.
  • Use a battery app: Dying batteries are a 21st-century problem, and like all 21st-century problems—there’s an app for that!
  • Turn your device off: Before you charge, put your device down for a nap. This extra precaution can help to prevent your gadget from exchanging data while charging. Turn it back on when you’ve got some juice, and you’re good to go!
  • Keep a close eye: Never leave your mobile device unattended while charging. Watch for overheating and theft. If your device feels unusually hot during a charge, unplug it immediately, as charger models with too much power supply can overheat your mobile device. Criminals know to lurk around charging stations, so don’t make the mistake of leaving your device left to fend for itself.

McAfee® Mobile Security, free for both Android and iOS, will alert you at the first sign of compromise, and protects your device and its data.

lianne-caetano

About the Author

Lianne Caetano

Lianne Caetano currently serves as Director of Global Product Marketing for the Cloud BU at McAfee. During her 7+ years at McAfee, she has held leadership roles in the consumer and enterprise divisions where she has helped shape product portfolios and strategic direction along with advocating for cybersecurity education. Prior to McAfee, Lianne has worked ...

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