You've been there before. You're on errand number five for the day and your cell phone flashes a warning that it only has three percent battery left. So you stop for a cup of coffee, pop your USB charger into a public outlet at the cafe and your phone comes back to life.
But you shouldn't feel relieved just yet. While you'll be able to finish up your day without a dead phone, if the outlet or charging station you used was hacked you could seriously compromise your phone and the data on it.
"Just by plugging your phone into a [compromised] power strip or charger, your device is now infected, and that compromises all your data," Drew Paik of security firm Authentic8 told CNN.
In the same way that your USB cord can download photos from your phone to your computer, that cord can also transmit data between your phone and a compromised outlet—allowing a hacker to access your text messages, photos, contacts and email.
Since there's no way to tell whether or not a public outlet or charging station has been compromised, you should avoid plugging your phone into one in the future.
Here are a few more tips to help protect your phone:
- This one is a no-brainer, but try to charge your phone at home as much as possible so there's less need to charge it in public.
- Buy a portable USB battery pack and make sure it's always in your purse.
- Invest in a USB cord that doesn't transmit data like most charging cords.
- In a pinch, if you need to charge in a public outlet make sure your phone is locked with a PIN or a password. That way your phone shouldn't pair with any device it may be connected to, according to howtogeek.com.