Why You Shouldn't Use Public Charging Stations At The Airport
Public charging stations have popped up in airport terminals in recent years and they might feel beneficial if your device needs to juice up before your flight. But now, the FBI is warning travellers against using them all together due to cybersecurity concerns.
“Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices,” states the FBI’s warning, which went out on Twitter in early April.
This cyber-theft tactic is commonly called “juice jacking,” according to privacy expert Amir Tarighat, CEO of cybersecurity firm Agency. It involves “concealing implanted malware within the physical charging cord or port, so when you connect your phone to a public charging station it’s exposed,” he says.
If an airport charging station is compromised and your device is infected, troves of personal information could be accessed. “Your passwords, your cards, your account number—if a hacker can get into your phone, they could get access to all of it,” Tarighat says.
Beyond simply stealing your data, malware presents a more complex scope of concerns, according to Tarighat, like installing spyware that can instruct the device to do something like download an app, pay for a product, screen record, or track what you type on your keyboard (a type of spyware called key-logging).
Of course, we all need to charge our devices while in transit. But it’s best to use your own USB cord plugged directly into an old fashioned wall outlet or even into a portable charger you brought from home. Public charging ports should be avoided outside the airport, too, whether they’re in hotels, event spaces, or on the street corner. Cyber-attacks could happen at any of them, regardless of their location.
Aside from the public charging stations, there are other ways hackers can access the personal information on your device from the airport terminal. “Definitely avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots,” says Tarighat. “Those networks don't have the same protections as your at-home Wi-Fi. If the public network isn’t secure, hackers can hijack your session and log in as you, leaving your private documents, photos, and login credentials up for grabs.”
Being as vigilant in airports about your devices and data as you are with your luggage, passport, and other personal belongings, can save a lot of stress down the road.
*published in Conde Nast Traveler (April 2023)