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Be careful where you charge: Warnings are out about ‘juice jacking’

Posted at 7:22 AM, Nov 19, 2019

DENVER — During the busy holiday travel and shopping season, plenty of people will be out and about and in need of a charge for their smartphone. But some authorities are warning against using public USB chargers because of a potential scam called “juice jacking.”

“It’s a combination of juicing up our phones and getting hijacked at the same time,” said Steve Beaty, a computer science professor and cybersecurity expert at Metro State of Denver.

Beaty says the USB outlets, common at airports, hotels, and shopping malls, could be turned against the person trying to charge.

“They might have more than just electricity coming out,” he said. “It could be they have got malware or are querying your phone, pulling contacts, calendars, other info you might have.”

Authorities have warned about “juice jacking” since 2011, but recently the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office revived warning calls.

“Within minutes of being plugged in the malware could lock the device or send private information like passwords, addresses, or even a full backup of the phone directly to the criminal,” LA County Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak said in a video.

Local cybersecurity experts compared the scam to another tech related data-steal; card skimmers at gas pumps or ATMs.

“Skimming devices are the same type of thing. They have a tiny little computer in there reading your mag swipe, reading you punching things in,” Beaty said.

Experts put forth the following tips to protect yourself against getting your data stolen by a public USB plug:

  • Keep a fully charged phone
  • Use a portable charger or keep an external battery
  • Utilize a SyncStopp or similar device that stops data flow while allowing a charge
  • Use the power “block” or adapter that connects a USB cable to a wall A/C outlet, that also only allows a charge

This story was originally published by Jason Gruenauer on KMGH in Denver.