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Government Agencies Issue Warning About Plugging In

Published: April 22, 2023 on our newsletter Security Fraud News & Alerts Newsletter.

The FBI and the FCC recently issued a warning about something many of us do all the time. We plug our mobile devices in USB slots to charge them while we're out and about. In today's world, charging stations for mobile devices are found almost everywhere. From bars to airports, and even ride-sharing vehicles, these charging stations are often offered as a courtesy by their owners. However, it is important to exercise caution when using these stations to avoid becoming a victim of "juice-jacking" - a tactic used by cybercriminals to steal information or install malware onto mobile devices via their charging capabilities.

Jim Stickley of Stickley on Security is very familiar with this practice. He has built these machines and used them to show how easy it is to “jack” a mobile phone. He said, "It will charge your phone, which is part of the beauty of it; you don’t suspect anything bad is happening. However, it also may be installing malware on your phone or stealing data off of your other device."

Juice-jacking isn’t new, but per the agencies above, it’s reoccurring. “This is likely due to the increase in travel after the COVID epidemic when everyone was staying home. Now, we’re all out and about and needing to charge our devices on the go,” said Stickley.

Per the FCC, some criminals actually leave cables plugged in making it easier for you to use their charging stations. In other cases, infected cables have been given out as “promotional gifts” for something.

To prevent juice-jacking, consider the following precautions:

  • Ensure your device is fully charged before leaving home.

  • If you need to charge your device while out, use your own cable and plug it into an electrical outlet. Alternatively, use a personal charger that is small enough to fit into your pocket and can charge your device at least once.

  • Set up your device to require a passcode before starting a USB transfer or better yet, disable this feature altogether.

  • If you have to use a public charging station, power off your device before plugging it in to prevent automatic data transfer.

Although most mobile devices use USB cables for both charging and data transfer, using public charging stations can expose your device to cyber threats. As mobile devices have become an integral part of our daily lives, it is essential to be mindful of the risks when using public charging stations.

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