Government Officials Are Cautioning Travelers and Shoppers Against Using Public USB Charging Stations
While these charging stations may help power up your phone, the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office says there are ways for digital hackers to access your private information through them.
If you like to charge your phone while you shop or if you rely on powering through emails at the airport gate while plugged in, you may want to consider buying your own reusable battery pack. According to reports from New York's ABC7 News, anyone who decides to use public charging stations and outlets—often referred to as "USB" charging stations—could be opening their personal information up to hackers around the world.
The Los Angeles District Attorney's Office took to Twitter this week to alert those in the area that certain malware programs loaded into these charging stations can lock you out of your phone with no warning. The program then sends your personal information—everything from addresses to passwords and key account numbers—to cybercriminals, and the phenomena is now being referred to as "juice jacking," according to KABC.
"It loads itself into the phone and can either monitor the phone in real time, sometimes download information from the phone, sometimes clone the phone completely, and you don't even have to be using it," Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak says in the public announcement. There isn't any risk when using a privately-owned wall outlet, or plugging into a mobile battery pack, officials say. Portable chargers that can be plugged into your car's outlets also are safe, and officials say these alternative power sources should be used when possible; public USB charging ports should be considered as a last resort.
"Credit cards, passwords to banking accounts, your home address—all of that, if you've ever put it into the Internet anywhere, could potentially saved in your history in your phone," Sisak said. Officials say being aware of the problem should allow you to effectively minimize your risk for any potential breach, but the Federal Trade Commission has published best practices for handling personal info on your devices as well.