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FBI warns why you should never charge your smartphone at a hotel or airport

The FBI has warned the public not to use USB charging stations in airports, malls and hotels.

The American intelligence and security service put out the message via its official Denver Twitter account earlier this month.

Despite the apparent convenience of communal charging areas, the FBI says consumers should stick to their own USB cables, charging plugs, portable chargers or external battery.

So why is juicing up out when you’re out and about so risky?

Your phone will be locked or disabled, your private data could be compromised and your smartphone infected with malware that steals potentially sensitive data, including credit card information.

The statement said: “Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers.

“Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices.”

So what should you do if you’re running low on battery and far from home?

“Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead,” the organisation advised.

Referred to as ‘juice jacking’ the term was first coined back in 2021 after researchers created a charging station to show the potential for hacking at such kiosks and was reported on by the Washington Post.

Be careful charging your phone using public ports. Credit: Pixabay/StockSanp

The FBI offers similar guidance on its website, but FBI’s Denver field office said that the Twitter message was meant to be advisory and that there was no specific case that prompted it.

Instead, the announcements are part of a regular reminder on the issue to keep smartphone users switched on when they juice up.

Fraudsters use compromised USB cables left at charging stations to hijack phones via software that is then used to siphon off usernames and passwords, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) warned at the time.

“Malware installed through a dirty USB port can lock a device or export personal data and passwords directly to the perpetrator,” the FCC said.

“Criminals can use that information to access online accounts or sell it to other bad actors.

“In some cases, criminals have left cables plugged in at the stations.”

Forced to plug in? If prompted by a pop up make sure you don’t agree to share your data.

The FBI also reminded the public that hackers can use public Wi-Fi networks to target devices and data so sensitive transactions, including purchases, should be avoided while on public networks.


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