(NEW YORK POST) – A convenient charge can come with a high cost.
Public charging stations and USB ports can be a lifesaver when your phone’s battery power is dwindling, but the threat of “juice jacking” should make people think twice before using random chargers.
Hackers are infecting ports with malware that, when phone owners plug in for a complimentary charge, infect their phones — and possibly steal their savings.
Local law enforcement is warning travelers to be aware of the danger ahead of the holidays.
“A free charge could end up draining your bank account,” Los Angeles deputy district attorney Luke Sisak says in a video posted by his office.
“Criminals load malware onto charging stations or tables they leave at the kiosk,” he explains. “Once the unsuspecting user plugs in, their phone or electronic device becomes infected.”
“It’s a combination of juicing up our phones and getting hijacked at the same time,” Steve Beaty, cybersecurity expert at Metropolitan State University of Denver, tells ABC affiliate WKBW. It’s similar to what happens when hackers put card skimmers into gas pumps or ATMs. “Skimming devices are the same type of thing. They have a tiny, little computer in there reading your [magnetic stripe], reading you punching things in,” says Beaty.
Authorities have been warning of juice jacking since 2011.
Malware can lock your device or send out passwords, addresses or a full backup of your phone to the hacker within minutes. To avoid being a fraud victim, the LA office recommends using a power outlet and your own charger — or getting a portable one. Apps like SyncStop also help protect your data from accidental syncing and malware.
Malware can feel like it’s everywhere these days — even government and hospital systems are vulnerable, and “exploit kits,” have the ability to infect computers at a rapid rate. Recently, a batch of Android apps reportedly infected thousands of users with a “Joker” bug that signed them up for subscription-based services without their knowledge. By being cautious about what you download, click on and where and how you charge your phone, though, you can potentially avoid accidentally compromising your tech.