The old adage that there’s no such thing as a free lunch isn’t exactly true. If you’re brave enough to eat an abandoned sandwich, as millions of pigeons do every day, you’ll get plenty of free lunches. Probably a few gastrointestinal problems too, but free ones at least.

And just as eating such forbidden snacks is playing roulette with your guts, you should also avoid the temptations of free smartphone charging in public places, according to the FBI of all people.

Last week, the agency’s Denver office warned those low on battery not to resort to using public phone chargers “in airports, hotels or shopping centres”. 

That’s because “bad actors” — which is to say cybercriminals, rather than the cast of your average long-running soap opera — “have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices.”

This is actually old news. “Juice jacking,” as it’s pleasingly alliteratively known, has been a theoretical problem for over a decade, and is simply a side effect of using the same port for charging and data transfer. Indeed, the term was coined by security researcher Brian Krebs in a post from 2011.

Just as you wouldn’t pop a random abandoned USB drive into your laptop (or you really shouldn’t at any rate) putting a strange cable in your phone can come with the same dangers.

That said, just because something’s theoretically possible, doesn’t mean it’s a widespread problem. The chances of you grabbing an infected charging cable in public are clearly pretty slim, and devices usually ask if the user wants to trust a connection for data transfer in any case.

All the same, it’s best not to take the chance and follow the FBI’s advice on this one: “Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.” 

In an ideal world, phone batteries would last for weeks on end like they did in the 1990s, and we wouldn’t always have one eye on our battery metre. But if we will insist on giant, bright, high-resolution touchscreens and apps more advanced than Snake, then this is just the price we have to pay…

Photo by Andreas Haslinger on Unsplash

Alan Martin
Alan is an experienced and versatile writer with the unique distinction of having written for both The New Statesman and Nuts. The list of publications Alan has written for doesn't stop there. His work has also been published in: Wired, CNET, Gizmodo UK, ShortList, NME, TechRadar, The i, The Independent, The Evening Standard, City Metric, Macworld, Pocket Gamer, Expert Reviews, Coach, The Inquirer, Rock Paper Shotgun, Tom's Guide, T3, PC Pro, IT Pro, Ideal Home, Livingetc, Stuff, Business Insider, theBit, Wareable, and Trusted Reviews. Alan now covers a range of subjects for ReviewsFire, with a focus on news - his unique style of covering technology news is a key part of ReviewsFire's success.

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