The federal law enforcement agency said that public phone charging sites are vulnerable to “bad actors”
The FBI has urged Americans to stay away from free phone charging stations found at airports, hotels and other public places, saying they could be used to hack into citizen’s devices and may pose a threat to privacy.
While it’s unclear what prompted the advice, the bureau’s Denver office recently made a case against public charging sites in a social media post, reflecting a similar guidance offered on the FBI’s website.
“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,” it said, suggesting people “Carry [their] own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.”
The FBI is not the only federal agency to issue a warning about the phone chargers, with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also claiming that malicious actors can use USB ports to transfer malware onto the devices of unsuspecting users – a tactic it dubs “juice jacking.”
Such malware can provide access to sensitive data, including passwords, which could be used for various forms of identity theft.
Some devices, including some iPhones, offer protections against ‘juice jacking’ attacks by warning users about untrustworthy connections, but more sophisticated malware is able to bypass those alerts.
However, despite the alarms sounded by the federal government, it remains unclear just how common such attacks really are. After the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office issued an advisory warning travelers of the dangers of public charging sites in 2019, TechCrunch asked the agency for any reports of known cases of ‘juice jacking.’ The office responded that it had “no cases” on its books, and was unable to point the outlet to additional resources documenting the phenomenon.