FBI warns about 'juice jacking' when plugging into public USB charging stations

Cybersecurity experts said devices can be tracked, information including photos and videos can be stolen without victim knowing
FBI warns about "juice jacking" when plugging into public USB charging stations
Posted at 5:00 AM, Apr 27, 2023

COLORADO SPRINGS — As you start thinking about those summer vacations, the FBI wants you to think about how you’re charging your devices at the airport. Investigators say bad actors are using public free charging stations in airports across the country to access and even track our computers and phones.

The staff at the Colorado Springs Airport tells News5 they aren’t aware of any of these hacking attacks happening at their property.

The problem is people can be compromised and will never know it. Cyber experts say hackers hope you’ll plug your devices into public USB ports they’ve tampered with.

”An airport is a target rich environment because almost everyone in the airport is looking to charge their phone,” said Thomas Hold Russell of the National Cybersecurity Center.

This month the Denver Office of the FBI sent an alert to consumers warning about “juice jacking”. It’s the term for how hackers are tampering with public charging station USB ports in places like airports to steal information and even track devices.

Russell is a cybersecurity expert who has been tracking this trend for years and says people need to understand, if you plug into a public USB port it’s an attack you probably won’t notice in the moment.

”Most victims don’t know and sometimes nothing happens until maybe weeks later,” said Russell.

He suggests keeping our devices updated to help detect and defend against any potential attacks and to avoid plugging directly into public USB ports in the first place.

”Most of the charging stations work with four wires. Two of those wires are power, two of those other wires are for data.That’s how they get it because you plug it in and the data is being sapped from your phone or your computer from those other wires,” said Russell.

At the Colorado Springs Airport you’ll find charging areas all over the public areas of the airport. It’s something travelers are asking for.

”More and more people have more devices that they are flying with and with the in-flight entertainment people want to watch movies or listen to music, so they want to have their device charged,” said Colorado Springs Airport spokesperson Aidan Ryan.

With all of these charging banks and more on the way with the work planned as part of the airport’s future expansion, passengers are being warned about “juice jacking” and are being urged to report anything that looks suspicious.

”We always recommend never utilizing a plug that’s been left behind, or a cable. If you do notice anything that has been tampered with, notify our staff immediately,” said Ryan.

Russell says by using a charging block or data blocker and plugging directly into the outlet, it will keep you safe no matter where you charge. That’s because it only allows the power to flow through the electrical wires.

”This is an extremely important issue because as more travelers go through the airports during the summer time more scammers are also going to be out there preying on them,” said Russell.

So in addition to data blockers that plug into the wall, another option to help you avoid these public charging stations altogether is to invest in a portable power bank. They can be found online for roughly $20. You just charge up these blocks at home and take them with you to help power your devices.


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