One of the biggest challenges for a smartphone user is keeping their device charged to stay connected to the world. The inevitable need has resulted in more and more charging points being installed in public spaces and properties. And often people queue up near public charging stations with their devices, not realizing how risky it could be for their private data.
The FBI warns smartphone users against using public charging stations. Scammers can infect these ports with malware and steal data.
Bureau officials warned smartphone users not to use public USB charging ports at airports, hotels and malls. They found that hackers could use this opportunity to gain access to a phone or tablet.
Recently the FBI office in Denver tweeted: “Criminals use public USB ports to install malware and surveillance software on devices.“
This hacking practice is referred to as “juice jacking“.
The term first emerged in 2011 when researchers built a charging station to demonstrate the hacking potential of such kiosks.
The FBI and FCC (Federal Communications Commission) issued similar warnings in 2021.
The latest warning is part of officials’ warnings about the increasing use of smartphone charging stations in public places.
Few cases of this malware stealing tactic have been reported in the past. and authorities now suspect hackers are aggressively using the juice-jacking tactic to steal data from suspicious smartphone users.
Hackers could gain access to credit card numbers and other personal information if they were able to “juice” a phone. A significant portion of smartphone users store a digital copy of their card on their phone, or conveniently share three credit card numbers via message.
Once hackers get hold of such vital information, they post that data for sale on the dark web, causing great harm.
The FCC website warns: “Don’t let a free USB flash drive drain your bank account.“
Customers are encouraged to carry a power bank or plug their USB cables into outlets or use their own charging adapters to charge their phones.
Juice Jacking: How to stay protected
Experts have warned that anyone who needs to use a USB charging port in a public place should watch for signs of tampering and keep a close eye on activity on cell phones. These include draining the battery faster, excessive heating, asking permission, and changing settings.
Wireless chargers and custom USB-C cables have been touted as safer options.
Overall, experts encourage users to treat their phones like credit cards and take similar precautions as smartphones contain lots of sensitive and personal information of users and these days have turned out to be secret keepers.
With the advent of breakthrough technologies that surround us, it is impossible to imagine ourselves without such devices. However, a little caution and extra effort can keep us from becoming easy prey for hackers.