FBI: Avoid using public charging stations

Instead, the FBI suggests carrying your own personal charger and USB cable and using an electrical outlet...

phone charging station

The FBI has warned people to avoid using free public charging stations like those you may have seen at airports and coffee shops.

The U.S. agency has previously warned that hackers can exploit public USB hubs to infect devices with malware and surveillance software. Instead, the FBI office in Denver suggests carrying your own personal charger and USB cable and using an electrical outlet.

What’s the deal with public charging stations?

Public charging stations have been growing in popularity in recent years, allowing users to charge their electronic devices while they are out and about. As such, they provide convenient and accessible charging points in public areas such as airports, train stations, shopping malls, coffee shops, and libraries.

However, while they are convenient, they can also be dangerous. Specifically, cybersecurity experts have identified a few attack methods that rely on public USB ports, including:

  • So-called “Juice Jacking,” which involves criminals loading malware onto public charging stations to access devices while they are being charged. Once installed on a victim’s device, this malicious software could be used to steal account credentials, financial information, and other details.
  • Video Jacking,” which presumes a piece of hidden equipment that records footage of everything happening on a device while it’s plugged in – from entering passwords to writing emails.

These security risks come from the fact that when you connect your device to a charging station, you are essentially connecting it to a computer you don’t know anything about. And so, cybercriminals can use these charging stations to install malware on your device or steal your data through USB.

How to protect yourself while using public charging stations?

There are several things you could do to mitigate the risk of insecure charging stations if you really have to use them in the first place.

Use the outlet if you have the charge with you
It is a good practice to have a charge near you if you know your battery could be drained out. If you have one on hand, well – connect your device to an electrical outlet and charge it for as long as you want.

Get a power bank
This way, you won’t have to use a public charging station. And if your power bank is out of juice, well – you can charge it and then connect your phone. This indirect connection to the charging station will keep you safe from any attempt to steal your data.

Use a charge-only USB cable
Visit a local Best Buy or any other electronics shop and see if they have one of these cables. Or you can buy one from Amazon. These cables will prevent any data exchange between your device and the charging station.

Use a USB data blocker
This is an alternative to the abovementioned method – you can use a USB data blocker to add protection between your device and the charging point. Since these USB data blockers are relatively small, you may want to consider carrying them out in your wallet always to have them readily available.

Again, this story has nothing to do with VPNs, but we at VPN Reports want you always to stay safe. So make sure to go easy on using charging stations; if you have to use one, make sure it won’t copy your data or install malware. It’s better to be out of juice than to have it full of malware. Or so we think.