The FBI has issued a warning to consumers, urging them to avoid using public phone charging stations due to the risk of exposing their devices to malicious software. According to a recent tweet from the FBI’s Denver branch, public USB stations commonly found at malls and airports are being exploited by bad actors to spread malware and monitoring software, although no specific examples were provided.
Security experts have long raised concerns about the risks associated with public charging stations, with the term “juice jacking” coined by researchers in 2011 to describe the problem. Simply plugging your phone into a compromised power strip or charger could result in your device becoming infected, compromising all your data.
Not only can a compromised charging port allow hackers to gain access to your email, text messages, photos, and contacts, but the charging cord itself can also be used to send data from your phone to other devices, such as when you connect your iPhone to your computer. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has also warned about the risk of corrupted charging ports, which can allow malicious actors to lock a device or extract personal data and passwords.
The FBI and the FCC regularly issue reminders and public service announcements to raise awareness about these risks and encourage the public to stay vigilant, especially when traveling. The agencies recommend carrying your own charger and USB cord and using electrical outlets instead of public charging stations. In some cases, criminals may intentionally leave infected cables plugged in at charging stations or even distribute them as promotional gifts.