The Catch Behind Free Chargers

Alan Cai

April 14, 2023

Whether traveling through airports, waiting at railway stations, or idly standing by bus stops, tourists and travelers may often notice an influx of free charging stations located in convenient spots. These furtive machines fulfill a common contemporary necessity of constantly having mobile devices charged and available for use. Especially when traveling long distances or for extended periods of time, these amenities can make otherwise grueling undertakings much more endurable.

As Milton Friedman noted that free lunch does not exist, there must also be a catch behind supposedly free charging stations, especially ones which possess a seemingly extravagant amount of features such as private lockers, clean surfaces, and user space. It is without a doubt that facilities which provide such services take customer comfort very seriously and therefore have a genuine incentive to provide excellent complimentary resources. Nevertheless individuals who utilize free charging machines must do so while being aware of the insurmountable risks involved.

With the rise of traveling following the ease of coronavirus lockdowns, the prevalence of malicious free charging stations, coined as “juice jacking” by cybersecurity journalist Brian Krebs, has been steadily increasing. The Federal Communications Commission(FCC) warned that the threat of compromising free charging systems was present in many public settings. Numerous Federal Bureau of Investigation(FBI) field offices have downright suggested that Americans should avoid using all public charging stations.

Malicious public charging stations function by installing viruses when connected with mobile devices. Most malevolent free charging stations continue to charge cell phones or tablets with which they are connected while installing viruses in order to keep victims from removing their devices. Examples of potential malware include computer worms which operate without user interaction, the Trojan Horse which crashes applications and steals information, adware which is triggered through interaction with advertisements, and ransomware which holds a device hostage until a ransom is paid. Most viruses with the possible exception of ransomware steal data from affected appliances, not unlike the value proposition social media companies and search engines use when selling data to third-party customers. Many other forms of harm-inducing software exist or are in the process of being developed.

The institution of malicious digital activities is an ever present threat and ought to be eliminated immediately. Digital security is an extremely tricky enterprise and is largely outside the scope of law enforcement. It is imperative not only for digital citizens and travelers to fully understand the dangers of innocent-looking digital and physical objects, but also for potential cyber criminals to comprehend that the action of committing cyber crime is among the most morally evil misdeeds of the day and must never be attempted. Most cyber criminals will never be caught, but all face an irreparable tear in their conscience and will forever be cursed through the transgression.