FBI warning against using public cell phone charging stations

There’s a warning from the FBI that advises people against using public cell phone charging stations.
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 4:14 PM EDT
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EAST LONGMEADOW, MA (WGGB/WSHM) - There’s a warning from the FBI that advises people against using public cell phone charging stations. The bureau took to Twitter this week and warned people about “juice jacking” through public cell phone charging or USB ports in airports, train stations, hotels, and malls.

Stan Prager with Go Geeks Computer Rescue in East Longmeadow explained how “juice jacking” is a method that people can use to put malware on your phone and steal your personal information. He said this can only happen if you plug into a public USB port. He added that those who fall victim to this are typically people who travel frequently.

“You see one of those, you’re really excited and especially if you’re going to be going somewhere where you’re not going to be able to charge your phone, you’re going to want to take advantage of it, so you’re going to go over to one of these and you’re going to plug this in. In most cases, that’s fine. It’s just going to charge your phone, but sometimes, if someone has hacked that USB port, that’s where ‘juice jacking’ occurs,” Prager said.

Although “juice jacking” is not a new threat, Prager explained that, in the past, it wasn’t as dangerous because people didn’t store as much of their personal information on their phones

“You got your email on your phone. You’ve got your online banking on your phone. You got your maps on your phone. Basically, a person could, if they can get your info off their phone, they can make a complete characterization of you that they can use for identity theft,” Prager added.

Prager advised that travelers to always bring their own charger and to not forget the adaptor that plugs directly into a traditional wall outlet. However, he also acknowledged that the purpose behind charging stations is to provide convenience, since there aren’t as many wall outlets conveniently placed in public spaces.

“We’re so reliant today in being able to plug in USB anywhere to charge your phone, so you don’t think about that kind of thing,” Prager explained.

Western mass news reached out to Bradley International Airport to get answers on how they’re keeping passengers safe. They told us in a statement:

“While we are aware of the issue of ‘juice jacking,’ we are not aware of any incidents at Bradley International Airport. However, when using any public charging station, travelers are advised to use their own charging cable and check for any signs of tampering before utilizing any charging port. Travelers may also use any of our traditional outlets located throughout the terminal, which are often co-located with USB charging ports.”

Prager said to make sure you charge your phone before you leave and put your phone in low power mode. He added that if you have an iPhone, your phone may even give you a warning if the outlet you’ve chosen has been hijacked.

“If you plug it and you get a message that says ‘Don’t trust this computer,’ immediately disengage because that means it’s detected it’s connected to something that could actually generate data,” Prager said.