New charging kiosk keeps your phone locked away, but does it keep it safe?
During a long night on the town, you’re probably checking Twitter and other social media platforms while your friends go to the bathroom and leave you awkwardly standing at a bar by yourself. The night is far from over, and you realize your phone is running out of juice, but foresee many more pockets of being stuck by yourself while your friends are in the bathroom. Rather than be forced to put your phone away and talk to people, you find one of those for-pay phone-charging kiosks. However, the kiosk doesn’t look very safe, and you don’t feel too confident leaving your phone there. In comes Brightbox, a charging station with locked compartments to keep your phone safe — but are physical locks enough to truly protect your phone?
Brightbox is a pretty simple idea for a charging kiosk. It accepts credit cards for quicker payment, then a compartment unlocks and provides fast-charge cables for what Brightbox claims will work with 95% of phones. After you plug in your phone, you close the compartment, and it only unlocks after you swipe the same credit card you used to initially open said compartment. The total charging fee is only $ 2.95 — an acceptable cost to keep your safety net while your friends don’t stop leaving you to go to the bathroom.
Currently, Brightbox has around 100 units set up mainly in Manhattan, though it has goals of expanding to other parts of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut soon. The company will also release an iOS app that will point users in the direction of charging kiosks.
While Brightbox’s charging kiosk actually provides a useful service for this day and age, the more pressing issue isn’t necessarily where to find the kiosks should you need one, but how safe charging kiosks actually are. Though Brightbox goes a step further and locks your phone in a compartment, there are other potential pitfalls than simply having your phone stolen.
Last year at DEF CON, the annual hacker conference (See: Black hat down: What happened to the world’s most famous hackers?), security expert Brian Krebs performed a short study about how likely people are to plug their phone into a random charging station without giving it much thought.
Over the course of three-and-a-half days, 360 people who attended a hacking and security convention plugged in their phones. Built by security researchers Brian Markus, Robert Rowley, and Joseph Mlodzianowski, the intent of the charging kiosk was to show people how dangerous those very kiosks can be. Markus noted that most smartphones are configured to automatically dump data when plugged in, and someone with the know-how could easily reconfigure a machine to actually collect said data, or even upload data to the phone. Even if Brightbox hides the wires away within a locked box, all it takes to access them is a swipe of a credit card.
If you must use a charging kiosk, a simple tactic to curb potential deviants is to turn off your phone before you plug it in. Markus noticed that when phones were turned off completely, they didn’t expose their data. It may seem silly that someone would go through such lengths to steal strangers’ data from what is currently a scarce service, but phones house a lot of sensitive information, from private and potentially harmful pictures, to user account and credit card information. After the theft device is set up, all the thief has to do is sit back and accept the incoming data. As Markus said, it wouldn’t take too much work, so you should probably just preserve your battery and talk to strangers instead.
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