Smartphones have become a ubiquitous part of our lives. Even if it's just there in case of emergencies, having a charged cellphone can provide a serious sense of security. That's why, when the battery meter starts to tick down, a cold sense of panic rises in your stomach.
Many public places have begun to adapt to this change, and provide USB ports in addition to electrical outlets. Rather than jockeying with laptop users and carrying bulky outlet converters, smartphone owners can plug directly into the wall.
Sadly, this wonderful public good has become a playground for thieves. Scammers have hooked tiny computers into some of those ports. When you plug your phone in, they can install malicious programs on your phone. These programs report back personally identifiable information that thieves use to commit identity theft. Alternately, thieves can use the connection to your phone to look through your phone's contents, stealing browser history data -- including passwords. It's called "Juice Jacking," and it can take as little as three minutes for them to break your phone wide open.
It's a phenomenon so new, even security experts are getting suckered. At a recent digital security conference, one security firm ran an experiment by offering public charging cables that anyone could use. Surprisingly, 80% of security experts at the conference used these cables without once inquiring about security!
Obviously, these scammers aren't everywhere. They choose places where they can do the most damage -- airports, coffee shops, shopping malls and other places where people hang out. If you're at a place you trust, feel free to use the power. However, if you're in a public place, watch out! Use these tips to stay safe and avoid Juice Jackers.
1.) Carry (or borrow) a power plug
The easiest way to thwart the scam is to only plug your phone into electrical outlets. There's no computer on the other side there. The only problem with this option is you have to carry around your own power brick.
It's a hassle to carry one more thing, but it's worth it to avoid compromising your personal information. Consider shopping around to find a compact, square converter and keep it in your bag. If a power plug is a real hassle, only carry it on days when your phone is low on juice.
You can also use this as an opportunity to strike up a conversation with a stranger. Ask someone using a laptop if they have a plug you can borrow to connect your phone to a wall outlet. While not quite universal, chargers are pretty interchangeable. You don't need one specific to your brand of phone.
2.) Pick up a battery
You can also carry your power solutions with you. Advancements in battery technology have made them smaller and more efficient than ever. You can find a battery pack the size of a pen that will refill your smartphone on a full charge. Slightly larger packs can provide several days' worth of charge if you've got a little more space.
If it's too much of a hassle to carry around, try keeping one in your glove compartment for emergencies. That way, you can grab it when you need it and charge it on the road. You're not carrying around an extra piece of hardware all the time, but you get the security of knowing you've got a charge if you need one.
3.) Conserve your power
The easiest way to avoid using a public charging station is not to need one in the first place. There are several things you can do to save your phone's charge if it looks like you're running low. Even doing something like changing your wallpaper to all black will help add precious seconds to your run time.
For slightly more savings, keep your apps updated. The reason developers constantly release new versions is because they found ways to make things run more smoothly. Running outdated software could be chewing up your battery life.
Similarly, don't enable auto-update. This can drain data in a hurry while also burning through battery life. Update apps manually when you're connected to WiFi, or just disable automatic updates if your battery situation is looking dicey.
Your Turn: What's your best battery saving hack? Do you have an app you swear by or a setting we've missed? Share your wisdom in the comments!