Think twice before using a Smartphone Charging Kiosk

Have you seen the nice shiny smartphone charging kiosks that are appearing in public places, like airports? Have you used one? While these are a good idea in principle, as with everything it hasn’t taken long for someone to figure out that these kiosks can be hacked into and used for, shall we say, less than honest intentions.

iphone charging station

The smartphone kiosk contains a computer screen and a cable that is hooked up to, one could reasonably assume, a power source. However, you have no way of knowing what that cable is connected to because you can’t see it.  The folks at the Defcon conference ran a couple of experiments on a kiosk to see what damage, if any, could be done to devices that are plugged in.

The experiments were quite simple and showed that, if nothing is plugged in, the computer screen displays a message inviting people to charge their devices for free. When a phone is plugged in, the screen changes to display a message warning people of the damage that could be done to their devices.  But, what damage could you possibly do to a smartphone that’s on charge?  It only takes one dishonest person to hack into that computer and any device that is plugged in to it is at risk, either from someone accessing all of your data or sending malware straight to the OS, thus rendering the device virtually useless.

fake charging kiosk

While some phones offer a “charge only” option this won’t keep the contents safe. Defcon suggest that you either keep the device turned off completely while charging or use your on cable for safety.