Samrtphone users be careful, phone charging can do this!

New York: Hackers Can Use A `Side Channel' Without Data Wires To Gather Info On Browsing Habits, Steal Data

Plugging your smartphone to public charging stations or computers using USB cables can make your device vulnerable to hackers, warn scientists.

Experts have long known the risks of charging a smartphone using a USB cord that can also transfer data. But a new research at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT) shows that even without data wires, hackers using a “side channel“ can quickly find out what websites a user has visited while charging a device.

Researchers warn that “a malicious charging station“ can use seemingly unrelated data -such as a device's power consumption -to extract sensitive information. As a walk through any airport will show, most people are happy to plug their phones into public charging sta tions, putting their phones at risk of “juice-jacking“, when a compromised outlet steals data through a USB data cable, researchers said.

“The study is the first to show that even without a data cable, hackers can analyse a device's power needs to get at users' private information, with speed and accuracy depending on a number of factors. The side-channel attacks were successful as webpages have a signature that reflects the way they load and consume energy ,“ said Paolo Gasti, assistant professor at NYIT. The remaining power traces act as “signatures“ and help hackers discover which sites have been visited.

After collecting power traces via a range of smartphones which were used to browse popular websites, researchers launched attacks and checked the accuracy with which their algorithms could determine which websites were visited while the phones were plugged in. Various factors such as battery charging level, browser cache enableddisabled, taps on the screen, and Wi-FiLTE influenced the accuracy rate in tracing websites visited.

Some conditions, such as a fully charged battery, facilitate a fast and accurate penet ration, while others, such as tapping the screen while a page is loading, lessen hackers' ability to determine what website is being viewed. The important finding from the study is that such an attack can be carried out successfully, researchers said.

In the study, the slower, less accurate attempts at penetration were still accurate within six seconds about half the time. “It's very likely that information besides browsing activity can also be stolen via this side channel. Since public charging stations are so widely used, people need to be aware about this,“ Gasti said.