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What is USB Condom & How to Protect Your Devices at Public Chargers

Posted on by Dawna M. Roberts in SecurityDecember 31, 2020

If you have ever heard the term juice-jacking, you know that plugging your device into a public charging station may lead to serious consequences. However, there are times when you are in desperate need of a power-up, and since you can’t take the chance, why not use a USB condom?

What is a USB Charging Station?

USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and is described as a plug-and-play interface that connects digital devices. You can use it to charge phones, cameras, microphones, scanners, webcams, external drives, speakers, and other peripherals. You can also use them to plug in and use printers, keyboards, flash drives, music players, mice, and more. 

For many years USB has been the charging port of choice (except for Apple devices that have used their own proprietary design). Many people use public USB ports to charge their cell phones, tablets, and other on-the-go devices. 

usb condom

Public places like restaurants, airports, hotels, and cafes provide public USB portals so that customers can plug in and quickly charge up. The problem is hackers may exploit these USB portals, and if you plug in, your device could become infected with ransomware, spyware, malware, or a virus. 

USB connections aren’t only used for charging; they can also be used to transfer data between devices. You can plug your Android phone into your PC and view and copy the contents easily. Although convenient, this also poses a security risk when using a public USB charging port. 

What is a USB Condom?

The solution is a USB condom. A USB condom is simply a dongle that you plug into your device before connecting to an untrusted USB charging cable. The USB condom disables the data transfer pins so that the port can only be used to charge but cannot transfer anything else. Meaning a hacker can’t copy all your files or the flip side, they cannot install malware onto your device without your knowing it.

USB condoms are very inexpensive, around $10, and all you have to do is pop them on before charging. Amazon sells a variety of them online. They have them in all three types USB A, USB mini, and micro B connectors. The device blocks data transfer but allows electricity to pass through so you can quickly charge up and be on your way.

To use one, simply plug the male end of your USB cable into the female end of the condom, then plug the male end of the USB condom into the public USB charging station. Essentially this device becomes a middleman blocking you from danger. 

Why Use a USB Condom?

Most people are unaware of the dangers of plugging into a free, public charging station. Hackers and bad actors load these charging stations up with malicious software, and some even sit nearby waiting for you to plug in so they can take over and take control of your device. 

With just a few minutes, they could potentially steal your personal information, copy your entire contacts list with email addresses and phone numbers, gain access to accounts including your bank details, and more. The process of using these USB stations to either install malware or steal information is called juice jacking, and it’s more common than you realize. The dangers of hacking are everywhere, and now more than ever, Americans need to be more security conscious. 

Other Ways to Protect Your Device Against Viruses, Trojans, and Ransomware

There are dozens of other dangers out there targeting your mobile devices. Some tips to stay safe in this digital-heavy world are:

  • Never connect to free Wi-Fi without using a VPN.
  • If you do connect to public Wi-Fi, never log onto banking apps, or transmit sensitive information.
  • Keep all your devices installed with strong antivirus/anti-malware software. Run deep scans often.
  • Turn on multi-factor authentication (FaceID, TouchID, etc.) so that no one can access your device without your biometrics.
  • Use good, strong passwords to lock your devices.
  • Turn off notification screen messages that contain personal information. 
  • Never click a link in email or download attachments.
  • Do not click links in text messages unless you are sure where they came from.
  • Never act quickly; always investigate before taking an action like clicking a link or logging onto your accounts. Hackers use social engineering tactics and try to scare people into acting without thinking. 
  • Never give out credentials or personal information to anyone who requests it unsolicited. 

If you don’t feel comfortable using a USB condom, carry an extra battery or quick-charge device. Plug into an AC wall outlet instead, and always use your own charging cable. Your best defense against hackers, thieves, and scammers is common sense. Always be on the lookout for anything suspicious and never trust that someone who contacts you is really who they say they are. Scammers are quite good at tricking unsuspecting victims. 

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