A long time ago, I wrote about how the ACLU and other civil rights organizations confirmed the police have a special program that enables them to wirelessly extract all data, from call logs to emails to pictures, from your phone or tablet without telling you they're doing it or you even knowing it. It's a backdoor built into almost every cell phone sold, and the program they use covered everything from iOS to Android to builds of Symbian, and they can take 4G of data within a couple of minutes. As someone who never trusts technology that everyone says, "Trust us! It's safe!" (God bless open source), this wasn't a surprise so much as a disappointment.
It was the fact that this can happen without alerting the users that made me nervous, and also kept me wary of leaving my cell phone on in casual situations. Police can only search your phone if they have stopped you for some other reason. Or at least, they can only use what they find if they've already detained you for something else, even just questioning. That doesn't mean they aren't checking anyway and just sitting on what they find. Yes, I live in Chicago, how did you know?
A couple of years ago, while going to Wizard World Chicago, I noticed the lobby of the center had a kiosk. Free Cell Phone Charging Station!, it declared. As my phone was a bit low on juice, I went up. But I noticed the kiosk only had mini- and micro- USB charging plugs. I became suspicious. Why not just have an outlet strip with a bunch of chargers on it? What is inside that machine? Given a direct plug in via the data port, how do I know that machine is not going to mine my phone? And this is in Rosemont, a city founded by the mob. To quote Alice Cooper, "I hate to repeat myself, but nothing's free." (I note that McCormick Place in Chicago has both a kiosk and a table with outlets on top and wall adapters plugged in. Guess which one I used.)
Because I am familiar with technology, I don't trust it. My dad, on the other side of the corpus collosum, says I'm being paranoid. He has no problem using a public charging station.
I mentioned this online to the coders and my paranoia.
I was right all along.
It's called "juice jacking," and awareness of it exploded in 2011. There are lots of kiosks that offer charging for a nominal price or free. But they can use that same backdoor to extract anything they find. And for those of you wondering about the illegality of this, smart companies simply say it is "market research." By claiming they are studying demographics, they can take and you can't do a goddamn thing about it.
Now, you are probably thinking, "Ha! Knew it all along! I'm so smart!" Well, don't congratulate yourself. Everyone slips up when it comes to the familiar, and they don't even realize they are doing it. One of the most notorious examples came at DefCon in 2011. For those that don't know, DefCon is the ultimate computer security conference. Period. Finito. The end. This is where the top dogs hang out. To make a point, the folks at Aries Security set up a free charging kiosk and set it in the lobby. 360 attendees plugged their phones into the kiosk. 360 attendees AT A HACKER CONVENTION. If there was ever a place where you DON'T take your electronically vulnerable cell phone.... Fortunately, Aries is stocked with white hats, and they just taught everyone an Important Life Lesson. One you can bet they learned well.
So when you are going to be out and about, make sure you charge your cell phone before you go. And unless you are expecting a call, keep it turned off. Not on standby, off. You don't want to be wrong about something like this.