Hackers and scammers are installing malware into public charging stations to steal data from users’ phones or tablets, experts say.
Seeing that your device is about to die when you’re on the go is super frustrating, especially when your phone or tablet is supposed to entertain you on long flights. What most of us do in such situations is run to the first free public charging station.
However, using public charging stations at malls, airports, and similar places may allow hackers to steal your personal information, experts warn.
Depending on the vulnerability they exploit, they would have access to everything you would have access to on your phone.
The scam, known as juice jacking, happens when a user plugs into juice up their device and hackers load malware in the USB cable or charging station to jack their data, including passwords and phone numbers.
That’s why local authorities warn people to think twice before using public USB charging stations, especially at malls and airports.
Here’s what Luke Sisak, Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney, said in a video warning about the scam:
You might have seen a public USB charging station at an airport or shopping center. But be warned, a free charge could end up draining your bank account.
Stickley wanted to show NBC News how easy it is for hackers to gain access to a device plugged in a public phone charging station by giving them access to a simulation he set up along the Port of San Diego in California. He installed specific hardware in a makeshift charging station, so he watched and recorded everything that was shown on the connected phone’s screen.
Vicky Nguyen, a correspondent at NBC News, was the first “victim.”
Stickley was watching Vicky shaping on Home Depot online, so he was waiting for the most interesting part – her entering in a credit card number.
Dozens of people powered up their phones at the Stickley’s handmade charging station in four hours. Some of them were surprised to hear that it was a setup.
Ruth is one of the women who stopped by to charge her phone, and she allowed NBC News to access her device through the handmade charging station and show the type of data retrieved from her phone. In just a few seconds, a separate monitor showed her personal Facebook messages.
Her response to this was: “It’s dangerous.”
As Stickley explains, not many people are aware that their phones can be as easily hacked as their computers. A personal email is one of the most important pieces of information a hacker can obtain from your phone, as they can later use it to reset your passwords.
Having access to your email has become very valuable, because, if you think about it, every account you have requires access to your email. Everybody’s login is your email, and that’s the problem. – Stickley explains.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office warns the public to avoid using USB power stations, and instead use power outlets and purchase portable chargers.
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image credit: NBC news