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FCC Warns Travelers About Public USB Charging Stations Amid New Cyber Threat

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We’ve all been there – hours to spare at the airport and no juice left in your phone, or out sightseeing and watching the phone battery drain to single digits as you try to navigate to a restaurant.

Conveniently, public places including airports, shopping centers, hotels, and museums are installing free charging stations making a dead phone less dire.

But are these public charging stations safe to use? What can you do to protect yourself?

a phone is plugged into a public USB charging station at the airport

Juice Jacking Is On The Rise

Federal officials, including the FCC and FBI, have issued a recent warning to travelers to beware of using free USB charging stations amid an alarming trend.

The FCC has dubbed the new hacking trend “Juice Jacking” and has warned the public of the threat.

Using a public USB charging station is not without risk, as cybercriminals have found ways to access devices that are connected to the stations.

a phone is plugged in on a table near a window of an airport

In a tweet from the FBI, officials have issued a warning. “Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels, or shopping centers. Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices.”

According to the FCC, hackers can access phones and tablets that are connected to USB stations. By loading malware into the public stations, they are able to access and export personal data and passwords and can even lock you out of your device.

The malware can be transmitted from the port directly or by using a compromised charging cable.

There have been reports of these corrupt cables being intentionally left at charging stations and of the cables being given away for free as “promotional gifts”  

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a lady with bare feet charges her phone at the airport

Should You Be Concerned?

As travelers, we already have plenty to worry about. Often we are on alert for pickpockets, tourist scams, and petty crime.

Do we now need to be concerned about something as simple as needing to charge our phones? How big is the threat of juice jacking, and do we now need to also worry about cybercrimes and data theft?

a lady uses a USB charging station at the airport

According to officials, the answer is yes. The uptick in this type of crime has the potential to really impact travelers. Luckily, there are steps everyone can take to protect themselves and their personal data.

Simple Steps To Protect Yourself And Your Phone

By taking some simple precautions and arming yourself with information, you can likely avoid becoming the victim of “juice jacking.”

By offering up some helpful tips, the FCC hopes to protect the public from this new risk. Their suggestions include:

Woman,With,Red,Suitcase,Walks,Along,The,Airport,And,Talks
  • Avoid using public USB charging stations and use AC power outlets instead
  • Always carry charging tools with you when traveling – this includes car chargers, your own USB cables, and AC chargers
  • Consider investing in a portable charger or external battery to avoid running out of batteries when out
a tourist receives directions from a woman wearing a denim shirt

But sometimes, we simply have no other choice than to use these stations. If you find yourself caught out and out of options, there are also steps you can take to protect yourself.

When using a power charging station, you’ll sometimes be presented with a prompt on your phone or tablet. If given the option to “share data” or “charge only,” always select “charge only.”

Additionally, you can consider another tool to combat juice jacking. Charging-only cables are cords you can purchase that prevent your device from sending or receiving data while it is charging. If you do consider buying a charging-only cable, make sure it is purchased from a reputable seller.

a tourist takes a photo with her phone

If you fail to properly prepare yourself and find yourself in a precarious situation without any life left in your phone, you’ll simply have to revert to old-school travel hacks until you can find a safe place to charge up.

Ask a local for directions, grab a magazine to pass the time, pay with cash, or strike up a conversation with the strangers around you.

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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com

Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, hotel, airline, or other entity. This content has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of the entities included within the post.


Atlas

Thursday 27th of April 2023

This is why I have one of those 1990s nokias without a usb port. USB ports are the devil.

TT

Thursday 27th of April 2023

"There have been reports of these corrupt cables being intentionally left at charging stations and of the cables being given away for free as “promotional gifts”

My mother heard reports of drug dealers leaving stickers laced with LSD around on the ground so kids would get hooked and reports of clown rooms with satanic child sacrifices too.

These must be some bored and desperate criminals.

I don't use these simply because they are typically worn out, poor quality and don't output enough to actually charge, but just put your device into charge only mode if you are concerned.