You’re waiting at the airport, maybe even a little early for your flight, but then you get a phone alert. Thinking it’s a text you look down: maybe it’s friend wishing you safe travels or tagging you on social media. But instead, you see that dreaded red low battery icon. And then, “Low Battery — 10 percent of battery remaining” shows up on your screen.
Damn you forgot to charge your cell phone. Again. And, you suddenly realize that your charger is stowed snuggly in your check-in-luggage. Of course, you don’t want to pay the extortionist prices at the airport for a new charger so what do you do? You head to the free charging station and plug into it without giving it another thought!
But that fateful decision might be more costly than you think. Cybersecurity experts say that refueling your devices at these USB power charging stations comes with a lot more risk than you might imagine. Cybercriminals can easily alter these charging stations to dump malware on your device or quietly download your data without you even knowing.
Speaking to Forbes, Caleb Barlow, vice-president of X-Force Threat Intelligence at IBM Security describes these ports like this:
“Plugging into a public USB port is kind of like finding a toothbrush on the side of the road and deciding to stick it in your mouth,” he said. “You have no idea where that thing has been.”
Barlow recommends always bringing your charger with you and charging via a wall outlet or making a habit of carrying a charged power bank with you in your carry-on luggage or bag.
Another potential trap to avoid is never to use a cord that appears to be left behind!
“Let’s say I’m a bad guy … I go into an airport … I’m not going to easily take apart the charging station, but it’s easy just to leave my cord behind,” he explained. “Now, if you see an Apple charging cord, you’re likely to grab it or just plug into it. But inside this cord is an extra chip that deploys the malware, so it charges your phone, but now I own your computer.”
If you must rely on USB ports routinely, Barlow recommends spending the $10 for something called a Juice-Jack Defender (readily available on Amazon). “It’s a little dongle you can put in front of your charging cord that basically blocks any data from passing down the cord. It only passes the voltage,” says Barlow.
I know you might be thinking that I’m just paranoid and making a mountain out of a molehill. But according to Barlow, as of 2018, the transportation industry has suddenly seen a three-fold increase and has emerged as the second most attacked sector. It’s just too easy and too lucrative for cybercriminals to pass up.
Oddly, I found very few reports on this very real danger. I found one video on YouTube that discusses the Forbes article I source here and I think it’s worth a listen:
USB sticks are also considered dangerous because they are an oft used tool in corporate espionage. According to Barlow, “If you want to get into a company, go buy a couple hundred USB sticks and cast them around in places where you know company will go. Guaranteed, one of them will get plugged into a company laptop.” As a result, many companies are banning the use of USB storage devices.
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