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Posted by
447 posts

Wow! In addition to airports, planes, trains we've seen a growing number of hotels providing USB ports and river cruise ships. A convenient alternative to needing the correct outlet adapter. Makes me glad I always use an adapter and my phones fast charger instead. That or my own portable power pack.

Posted by
2456 posts

I think I need to look into getting some small USB data blockers.

Posted by
848 posts

I have heard about this possibility before.
It's easy enough to bring a small plug adapter to use with your own cable.

Posted by
5 posts

Lola, I cannot read the article because I am not a subscriber of the NY Times website.
Could you post a summary of what the article says?
Thank you. :)

Posted by
11676 posts

NancyT, sorry about that! I forgot about the paywall. It is annoying that RS links to stories in papers that have the paywall. We are subscribers to the digital NYT (my husband gets the educators’ discount) but I cannot read articles in the WSJ, Washington Post, orThe Local (Italy paper in English) when he posts them.

Thanks to Tom_MN for quoting the article.

Like LizPA, I travel with my own charger and connector cord. It works for my iPad and both our iPhones, so it is handy to have.

Posted by
4684 posts

Though Mr. Arsene and Professor Sekar said they were unsure of how often hacking attacks like these happened, the growing ubiquity of USB charging ports in places like hotels, airports and public transportation has translated into an increased risk of falling victim to such scams.

Yes, we've been hearing warnings about these supposed hacks from USB chargers for years - but I have yet to read about one actually happening to anyone or a compromised charger being discovered in a public place. Have you?

Posted by
5817 posts

Before everyone panics a key point in this article is that the experts can’t give any examples of it actually happening. I’m certainly not saying it doesn’t but it AT PRESENT it really isn’t that common to worry about too much.

If it does happen I imagine it will be quite targeted aimed at the phones of people with data that’s worth something. First class lounges, expensive coffee shops in financial districts, top level hotel suites?

This type of warning is similar to those about RFID readers. Just because bad guys can do something it doesn’t mean they do, especially if there are easier ways to get hold of the same or similar information.

The warning about not just plugging your devices in anywhere or using unidentifiable non branded cables etc is still a good one. Not because of the data risk but because of the risk from “overheating” your phone etc.

Just use your own,reputable, cables and you will be fine.

Posted by
485 posts

Tom_MN thanks for posting; the NYT has me pegged at three articles only/month. We just carrying the adapters and plugs that we have accumulated over the years. Probably the best way keep things secure.

Posted by
30893 posts

Lola, thanks for posting this as it's a good reminder to remain vigilant as there are hackers actively looking to exploit any weaknesses. Some of the articles I've read on this subject indicate that while this is absolutely a threat, there are few reports of this actually happening. For those that can't read the NY Times article, this one seems to provide basically the same information.

In addition to USB cables provided at airports and other public places, one other problem area might be the convenient charging kiosks that seem to be appearing with more frequency. There's one installed at the gym I attend, and it's provided with USB cables to fit a variety of phones.

This method of hacking exploits the fact that many people have become very dependent on their mobile phones. Especially when travelling some might be desperate enough to take advantage of a convenient means of recharging their phones, allowing the hackers to take advantage of them!

As the experts have suggested, a good defense is to....

  • only use the USB charging cable that was supplied with the phone, or one purchased from a reliable source.
  • only use the USB charging cube and plug directly into an AC outlet. Pretty well all phone chargers these days are designed to operate from 100-240 VAC so can be used world wide (but of course, don't forget the Plug Adaptors!).
  • if one is travelling and might be away from a charging outlet for an extended time, a portable battery charger could be used. There are many different types available in a variety of capacities.
Posted by
16 posts

Hi there. We had to remove a post. We can allow for copy/pasting small parts of an article but it puts us in a position of liability if you post the entire article.

Posted by
1 posts

Hi...USB connections were designed to work as both data and power transfer mediums, with no strict barrier between the two. As smartphones became more popular in the past decade, security researchers figured out they could abuse USB connections that a user might think was only transferring electrical power to hide and deliver secret data payloads.

Posted by
245 posts

Interesting! I like the idea of a "USB Condom" to disable the data transfer function - much easier to carry than the various electrical adapters one might need to use a power outlet rather than publicly offered charging stations/cables. (I found myself delayed in NZ for longer than anticipated and so needed to locally buy an adapter. I hadn't planned on needing one, but, well, stuff happens.) That is, if you can find a power outlet......I typically don't use charging stations, but there are places where power outlets are hard to find.

I think they're actually called "data blockers", but after a quick search I'm having trouble finding them in Canada