FBI issues public alert about phone-charging stations
The FBI is warning the public against using public charging stations such as those found in the mall, at an airport, or in a hotel, noting that hackers could use the opportunity to access a person’s phone or tablet and infect such machines with malware and steal data.
In a general alert, the FBI tweeted, “Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.”
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. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.
The FBI Denver office said there was no specific incident that caused the public service announcement, it was meant as a field office warning.
The FBI and Federal Communications Commission (FCC) released similar warnings with the term “Juice jacking” in 2011 and it remains a concern, according to the U.S. government. FCC officials warn malware installed through a corrupted USB port can lock a device or export personal data and passwords directly to a criminal. The sensitive information can then be used to access online accounts or be sold to other bad actors. In some cases, criminals may have intentionally left infected cables plugged in at charging stations.
There is nothing to alert you that your phone is infected with malware after plugging it into a compromised USB port, but experts say to look out for signs that your phone has been tampered with, including the phone’s battery dying more quickly, overheating, and changes to your settings.
What can be done?
The FCC recommends that travelers avoid using a public USB charging station and they use a power outlet instead. Travelers should carry a portable charger or external battery.
Visually inspect the charger prior to plugging it in. If it appears to have been tampered with in some way, don’t use it.
Using a USB data blocker, a small dongle that adds a layer of protection between a device and the charging point, is another option.