In a recent tweet, the FBI warned the public that criminals are using public USB ports to steal data and passwords from cell phones or transfer to malware onto them. While not a new phenomenon, this kind of cyberattack, referred to as “juice jacking,” is on the rise.
Don’t Use It!
The Federal Communications Commission has also spoken out on the issue, warning that criminals may leave USB cables plugged in at charging stations to entice travelers to plug in, and says there have been reports of infected cables being given away as promotional gifts.
Easy Fix #1: Use the AC Outlet
The FCC offers several ideas for keeping devices safe. Number one: Travel with an AC power plug and your own USB cables. (An iPhone’s ice-cube-size AC power plug is conveniently small.) Skip the public USB port and only plug into AC outlets. If you want to power up in a rental car, again, don’t use the available USB port; bring your own car charger.
Easy Fix #2: BYO Power
Carry a portable charger so you can avoid public outlets all together. A recent article in ZDNet covers the editors’ five favorite power banks for charging on the go. Rated best overall is the Zendure SuperTank Pro at $229, while an affordable option on the list is the Anker PowerCore Fusion 10000 at $49.99.
Easy Fix #3: Charge-Only USB
Most USB cables sold and shipped with smartphones support data transfer, but you can buy “charge-only” USB cables that transfer power but no data. There are also inexpensive adapters (DataBloc on Amazon shown) that fit on the end of a USB cord and block data transfer.
One more piece of advice from the FCC: If you plug into a USB port and a message pops up asking if you want to "share data" or “charge only,” always select “charge only.”
Not Just Airports
Finally, keep in mind that the FBI’s warning is not just about public USB ports in airports. Hotel rooms, shopping mall kiosks, rental cars—maybe even the USB ports at the charging stations on your show floor—should be off limits. If you’re running low on power, close all unnecessary apps, skip watching the funny dog memes, and play it safe.