FBI cautions against airport phone chargers

That USB charging station in the middle of the airport or mall seems convenient, but it’s also an opportunity for hackers to infect your phone with malware. Public USB cables and chargers are like used chewing gum – to be avoided at all costs.

Feds warn against using phone charging stations in airports, hotels, malls, etc. BCD Information Security suggests safer alternatives.

By Dana Smith, BCD Travel Information Security Practitioner

In April, the FBI Denver office issued a reminder against using public chargers, explaining that bad actors can use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices.

Source: @FBIDenver on Twitter

The best thing about USB chargers (and lightning ports on iPhones) is they are a one-stop-shop for both charging devices and getting data on and off as needed. Unfortunately, that also makes it the worst thing about USB, at least from a security standpoint. USB cables and chargers are like used chewing gum – generally, best avoided.

Hacking, juice jacking and personal information

Dana Smith, BCD Travel Information Security Practitioner

Charging your phone via those public USB ports can lead to “juice jacking,” a cyber-theft move. That’s when hackers use the connection to transmit dangerous malware onto your device and steal your personal information or data. ​​​​​​​Within 60 seconds of charging, a device can be compromised. Malware installed through a hacked USB port could lock you out of your device and send your personal data and passwords directly to the hacker.

How do you protect your phone against public attacks?

Check out these recommendations from the U.S. Federal Communications Commissions, the independent government agency that regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite, and cable in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

  1. Avoid using public USB charging stations. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.
  2. Carry a portable charger or external battery.
  3. Consider carrying a charging-only cable – it prevents data from sending or receiving while charging.
  4. If you plug your device into a USB port and a prompt appears asking you to select “share data” or “charge only,” always select “charge only.”
  5. Install antivirus software and delete any suspicious apps discovered if you’ve used public charging stations.

How to stay cyber secure while traveling

Business travelers can and should take steps to secure internet-enabled devices during domestic or international trips. The proactive safety measures help make travelers less desirable to criminals and ultimately less vulnerable to cyber-attack.


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