The Denver FBI branch posted a tweet last week advising people against using public phone charging stations such as those found in airports, hotels or shopping centers, stating that “bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices.”

The news: The FBI suggests that consumers use their own charging cords and USB ports, and suggest using a standard power outlet rather than provided USB stations.

  • Holly Hubert, a former FBI agent, told CBS News that if someone sees a cord lying at a station, it’s best not to use it in the chance that it could be infected with malware.

Why? Phone charging cords are used as channels to transmit data from your phone to other devices. If someone has uploaded malware onto a cord, it can transmit to a USB port and even to a phone when it’s plugged in. This malware can put data on personal devices at risk, according to the Federal Communications Commission, which calls this “juice jacking.”

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  • “A free charge could end up draining your bank account,” said Luke Sisak, a Los Angeles deputy district attorney, via The New York Times.
  • “Malware installed through a corrupted USB port can lock a device or export personal data and passwords directly to the perpetrator,” the FCC says. This includes passwords to banking and any other app on your phone. “Criminals can use that information to access online accounts or sell it to other bad actors.”

Details: This isn’t a new concern. CNN states that the term “juice jacking” was coined in 2011. The FBI stated that its post was just an added reminder to make the general public aware of the dangers of public charging centers.

  • There isn’t much data on how common or widespread data jacking stemming from public charging ports is, but “airports should be checking for this kind of thing,” Hubert said.