Many thoughts can go through your mind at the airport as your phone’s battery dwindles from green to yellow to red. How is it already dead? What if I can’t call Uber when I land? Where is my charger? But when you find a place to plug in and charge, it may not be as simple — or safe — as you think.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office is warning travelers using Los Angeles International Airport of a new scheme targeting people who need a quick boost at public USB charging stations. The USB charging scam, also known as “juice jacking,” involves hackers spoofing charging stations to steal information.
Similar to credit-card skimming, fake charging stations are set up via port or cable, and users who plug into them expose their devices to malware attacks that can lock their devices and export sensitive contents such as passwords and bank account numbers into the hands of waiting information thieves.
“Avoid using public USB charging stations at airports and other locations,” the district attorney’s office tweeted.
Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak said investigators from his office have seen scammers whom they know to be involved in identity-theft schemes with the software and hardware capable of the “juice jacking” scam. He said his office wants to give travelers the information they need to protect themselves.
“It’s something that people should be aware is possible,” he said. “And they mostly don’t know that it is.”
Sometimes phone security is taken for granted, he says, along with the knowledge that the phone’s charging port is also how the phone sends and receives data.
“The big thing we tell people is to try to use [a power] adapter instead of finding a random USB socket somewhere,” he said. He also cautioned people to be aware of actions such as habitually using the cables in ride-share cars, hotels or, if traveling abroad, in internet cafes.
A key thing to look out for is whether your phone displays a “Do you trust this computer?” message when you plug into a USB outlet. Sisak said that’s an easy giveaway that a data device has been connected to it. On anything that’s not your home computer, the answer should always be “no.”
Scammers rely on the easy access that the multiuse charging stations provide to catch fliers off-guard.
Sisak said travelers should make sure their packing list includes a charger.
“It doesn’t seem like it’s happening daily, but it is something that’s very hard to track,” Sisak said. “It’s just far better to try to be safe than sorry.”
The Sunday after Thanksgiving is expected to set a record for airline travel, with 3.1 million passengers expected to travel on Dec. 1, and 31.6 million travelers expected to board U.S. carriers during the 12-day Thanksgiving travel period (Nov. 22-Dec. 3), according to Airlines for America.