In 2019, the Los Angeles District Attorney issued a warning about the dangers of charging your phone at the USB chargers commonly found at airports, hotels and other public locations. A few years earlier cyber security company Kaspersky Lab issued a report detailing the dangers posed by the simple act of recharging your phone through someone else’s computer or at a public charging station. The problem stems from the fact that information is transferred between your smartphone and the charger as soon as you plug your cellphone into the computer or charging station you are using to recharge your cellphone.
Among the information that is transferred is the name of your device, the manufacturer and model, serial number, firmware information, file system and electronic chip ID which would all be shared with a computer that you may be using to recharge your phone. And while this information may seem to be innocuous, this information is sufficient for a sophisticated hacker to use to gain much further information from your cellphone that could be used to your detriment. As for the charging stations at airports and elsewhere, they can be either infected with malware or be a fake charging station with the sole purpose of infecting your cellphone. Once you plug your phone into one of those already infected charging stations or a totally phony charging station, it can install and delete applications, including stealing your data or installing malware such as ransomware. Fortunately, however, the risk of having your information stolen through a malware infected public charger is not as bad as it used to be because the cell phone manufacturers have improved the security of their phones.
So what can you do? Obviously, you should never use a strange computer to recharge your phone. The risk is too great. As for charging stations, it is better to be safe than sorry, so I advise that you avoid public charging stations and instead bring your own USB charger that you merely have to plug into an AC outlet rather than use any public charging station. Make sure that your cellphone is secured with a password, fingerprint or iris scanners and do not unlock the cellphone while it is charging. Always protect the data on your cellphone with encryption programs and finally, use security software programs for your cellphone and make sure that it is updated with the latest security patches.
You also can use a charging-only cable to prevent the exchange of data from your phone if you are going to use a public charging station.
If you use an iPhone and you do decide (despite my warning) to use a USB charger such as found at airports and other sites, watch your screen when you plug in your phone because if the particular USB charger has been corrupted with malware that will steal information from your phone, your phone will ask you if you want to trust the device. The answer to that question is a resounding NO. If that message appears when you plug in your device to the charger, you should immediately unplug your phone.