Home Lifestyle Travel warning for airport passengers over phone charging scams

Travel warning for airport passengers over phone charging scams

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Public USB charging ports can be corrupted by malware (Picture: Getty Images)

If you’re heading abroad any time soon, you may want to bring a power bank to top up your battery at the airport.

That’s because a new warning has been issued over airport charging points, which could see your devices taken over by malicious scammers.

According to Emily Stallings, co-founder of tech retailer Casely, USB charging ports in public areas are a ‘hotspot for cyber threats’, as hackers can use them to sneak malware onto the phones and laptops plugged in.

The FBI has also urged people to exercise caution when travelling, with the organisation’s Denver branch posting on Facebook: ‘Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centres. Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices.’

Known as ‘juice jacking’, the technique sees attackers tampering with the ports before waiting for an unsuspecting person to plug in. Once they do, the corrupted USB port installs software on the device that can either lock it and give access to the hackers, monitor your keystrokes, or export personal data.

This information can then be used by criminals to access online accounts, which may result in ‘identity theft and financial loss’ for the victim.

Particularly if you’re headed off on holiday, you may not notice unusual activity on your banking and online shopping accounts, and it could be a massive headache to either speak to fraud teams or secure your device from a different country.

They’re often left unattended, making them a prime target for hackers (Picture: Getty Images)

Online security firm NordVPN claims smartphones are the typical target for this kind of attack, but ‘older Android versions are particularly susceptible’.

It’s hard to spot a corrupted USB port, as cybercriminals carrying out ‘juice jacking’ attacks tend to make sure there are few (if any) visible signs of tampering.

As such, the FBI recommends avoiding airport charging stations altogether, and advises you either plug into a power bank or ‘use an electrical outlet instead. Alternatively, look for wireless charging pads, as these are even less vulnerable to such hacking methods.

If you’re on the go a lot and simply need to be able to access public USB ports, you can purchase a USB data blocker (also known as ‘USB condoms’) that sits between your cable and the public charging station, allowing power to be transferred but preventing any potential malware transmission.

Wireless charging pads tend to be safer (Picture: Getty Images/iStockphoto)

Aside from this, though, the main way to ensure you don’t fall victim to this type of scam is to be vigilant. Don’t use chargers already plugged into outlets in public areas, and avoid using free promotional charging devices or cables.

If you do plug in your phone and receive a prompt asking you to select ‘share data,’ ‘trust this computer,’ or ‘charge only,’ always choose the charge only option, and make sure you keep your devices updated so you have the latest security features available.

‘As travellers, our devices are our lifelines, but they’re also prime targets for cyber threats, especially in public spaces like airports,’ adds Emily. ‘By staying proactive and vigilant about device security while charging, we can protect our digital identities and ensure a worry-free journey.’

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