Traveling on a missions trip to a closed country and plan to charge your phone at the airport?
You might want to rethink that one.
The FBI has issued a warning against using public phone charging stations like those found in shopping malls and airports. Shopping malls and airports in places like China, Dubai, Saudi Arabia, etc, could be laced with malware and monitoring software, according to the FBI’s Denver branch.
The FBI is advising people to “Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead,” when traveling. The FBI’s warning does not limit the threat to closed countries, but is instead a general warning for all airports and shopping malls, including the USA and Europe. However, the risk in the USA and Europe are different than the risks in closed countries where conversion or preaching the Gospel message is illegal. In the USA and Europe the risks are usually limited to personal security, privacy, and finances, whereas the risks in nations like China, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE can result in persecution, arrests, and in extreme cases – even death.
Simply plugging your phone into a [compromised] charger, like those found in shopping centers, hotel lobbies, airports, or even the back of taxis or hire cars, can compromise your phone and all your data. Think of it this way: the cord you use to charge your phone is also used to send data from your phone to other devices. For instance, when you plug your iPhone into your Mac with the charging cord, you can download photos from your phone to your computer.
The same can be done if your phone is plugged into a compromised public phone charger. It’s called “Juice Jacking” and could potentially allow governments to access your photos of those secret baptisms for instance, or messages from underground church members, phone numbers of pastors on the run, contact information of fellowship members or even map history of where you traveled that can be cross referenced with the travel of secret believers or other foreign missionaries.
It is not just public charging stations that you should be aware of when you travel. Strategically abandoned charging cables should also be avoided. Cables intentionally left and plugged in at charging stations should be avoided. There have even been reports of infected cables being given away as promotional gifts.
Here are some practical ways to avoid “Juice Jacking:”
- Avoid using public USB charging stations in malls, shopping centers, airports, hotel lobbies, taxis, Ubers, etc.
- Invest in a good external charging battery for your phone when you travel.
- Use AC power outlets to charge your phone.
- Buy AC outlet chargers, car chargers, and USB cables from a trusted source before you travel to the mission field.
- Buy a ‘charging-only’ cable for those urgent times where there might not be an option.
- If you plug your device into a USB port and a prompt appears asking you to select “share data” or “charge only,” always select “charge only” or immediately unplug completely.