May 30

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Avoid being hacked while travelling

Did you know that using a public charging station can get your mobile hacked without you noticing? 

Or that it's not uncommon that hackers use public WIFI to hack your laptop and mobile phone?

Or that buying a random USB cable to charge your phone, can get get it hacked? yep, you wouldn't even know if it happened. 

Let's go through some of the common things the hackers do, and how you can reduce the risk, and even in some cases avoid it entirely. 

TLDR:
- USB cables, Public charging stations can place malware in your phone/laptop. You can use a data-blocker to remove that risk. 
- Public WIFI can be malicious man-in-the-middle attack. You can use a VPN to reduce this risk greatly. 

They hack you without you knowing about it

If you connect to any network, or carry your device in public places, you can not eliminate all risk. Hackers are getting cooler and more impressive tools and tactics every day. They might send you a hidden text message, that installs a software, and removes the text, so you don't even get a notification. Meaning, you would have 0 clue that you got compromised, yet, you are. 

"It can copy messages you send or receive, harvest your photos and record your calls. It might secretly film you through your phone’s camera, or activate the microphone to record your conversations. It can potentially pinpoint where you are, where you’ve been, and who you’ve met." - The Guardian

The above program is called Pegasus, and is a high-end spyware, this is not what most malicious users have access to. But as of now, you probably need to be a major target to be affected by this, since it's rather expensive. But it's likely just a matter of time until it's more commonly used. Data is a commodity, and there is potentially a lot of money to make, legally and illegally by accumulating it. 

Today they are also able to place malware inside a charger cable for a phone. It's sold as a normal cable, looks like a normal cable, acts like a normal cable, however, when you plug it into your phone, it will perform actions on your phone and give access to the hacker. You wouldn't even know that it happened, and yet, they now have access to your device. 

A very similar thing is often done to public charging stations, where you go and plug in your cable into a USB connector, which acts like a normal one, charging your phone, but also taking over it, and they now own your mic, camera and more. You can read more about it here. But in short, it's really bad, so avoid using them.

On public WIFI connections, you can not know if the public WIFI in the café, mall, airport etc, is actually run by them, or if it is run by a hacker. What they can do is place a small hidden WIFI router that has the same name and format etc as the real one. So when you connect to it, all looks normal. However, what they do is take your connection and forward it to the real network, but while doing so, they are also able to track all your data. They perform what is called a man in the middle attack. Meaning they place themselves between you and the real WIFI router, and can read all your data. So every message you send to your friend, might also be read by this hacker.

No device is safe from these attacks, no pc, mac, iphone, android etc. So... what can we do?

Avoiding hackers, it's all about reducing risk

As mentioned before, it's about reducing and managing risks, and avoiding straight out bad situations to the best of your ability. There are small devices you can use on your cables to only allow charging, although not always convenient, it might be worth it for an active traveler. This devices is called a "usb data blocker", which blocks all data that is being transferred through the cable. It's like a small USB stick that you plug into your phone or laptop between the device and cable. You can probably find such a thing in your local IT store. 

Although you might have a fraudulent cable, or connect to a charging station that has malware, this small device will block any data that goes into your phone, and thereby blocking their access. They usually are not that expensive, and take up little to no space. It's just a small inconvenience to use. But at least that reduce the risk of someone looking through your camera from the outside. Which is something you probably are not comfortable with, unless that is some type of kink you have. 

For a man-in-the-middle attack, you can't be 100% safe. They will be able to read everything that leaves your computer and goes towards the internet. This might be your messages, credit card info, images, crypto transactions etc. However, there is something you can do. Since they read the information you send, you can control what you send. This can be done by encrypting the information that goes out from your device, meaning that they are unable to read the information that goes through their device. In theory, they could take your encrypted information and try to crack it open... But this is not easily done, and likely, unless the attack is intended for at you, they are looking for the easy targets. 

One way of encrypting your data is to use a VPN, there are tons of open services that you can use for this. What it does is that everything you do over the network will be encrypted and sent through the VPN, thereby it will be masked against the hacker. This greatly reduces any risk of someone listening to your device from the outside, although not eliminating it entirely, because that's near impossible. You can use VPN in your phone, laptop, desktop, tablet etc, and it's a cheap safety net. You can find many options by a quick google search. E.g.: Mullvad | Nordvpn | Openvpn | Tunnelbear

I don't personally endorse any of the above VPN services, but go research and find your option, there are many more than those I mentioned. You ideally want to find one that has great policy on personal integrity. 

Summary

We could go into tons of more details and information on how it works and what they do. But I did not want to make this to long or hard to read. But in short, you can not guarantee protection from hackers or malware, but you are able to greatly reduce risk by habits and small tools. 

Using a VPN is a cheap way to reduce risk of someone listening to your device, and avoiding cheap random USB cables and/or public charging stations will save you a lot of potential headache. If you want to add another layer to that you can make sure you always use a data blocker between your phone and cable. 

Personally, I never connect to public WIFI, instead, I create a hotspot from my phone. Meaning I set up a WIFI hotspot on my phone and use the 4g/5g network on my phone and connect my laptop to that. 

Now, you can do a lot to reduce risk, but at some point it's also about convenience. In this article I simply focused on a few pieces of information that is easily applicable, yet informing you about risk. 

Now, go apply.


Tags

hacker, safety


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