Hackers can use public USB chargers to steal personal data. Here’s what you need to know about ‘juice jacking’

usb charger

(Lucian Alexe, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Charlotte Edmond, Formative Content,


  • Charging your phone at public USB points like those in airports may put you at risk of ‘juice jacking’
  • Hackers can steal your data and passwords in public locations
  • The Los Angeles District Attorney has warned about USB charger scams

We all know the feeling of panic when your mobile phone is about to die when you’re out and about – and the feeling of relief when you find a convenient place to give it a power boost.

But security experts are urging people to think twice before plugging in. “Juice jacking” – or using public USB connections to introduce malware to smartphones and other devices – is an increasingly popular ploy by cyber criminals.

 

Travellers are advised to stop charging their mobile phones and devices at public USB charging points like those found at airports and hotels because of the risk they present. The Los Angeles District Attorney recently issued a warning about fraud due to USB charger scams.

What is the World Economic Forum doing on cybersecurity

The World Economic Forum Platform for Shaping the Future of Cybersecurity and Digital Trust aims to spearhead global cooperation and collective responses to growing cyber challenges, ultimately to harness and safeguard the full benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. The platform seeks to deliver impact through facilitating the creation of security-by-design and security-by-default solutions across industry sectors, developing policy frameworks where needed; encouraging broader cooperative arrangements and shaping global governance; building communities to successfully tackle cyber challenges across the public and private sectors; and impacting agenda setting, to elevate some of the most pressing issues.

Platform activities focus on three main challenges:

Strengthening Global Cooperation for Digital Trust and Security – to increase global cooperation between the public and private sectors in addressing key challenges to security and trust posed by a digital landscape currently lacking effective cooperation at legal and policy levels, effective market incentives, and cooperation between stakeholders at the operational level across the ecosystem.Securing Future Digital Networks and Technology – to identify cybersecurity challenges and opportunities posed by new technologies and accelerate solutions and incentives to ensure digital trust in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.Building Skills and Capabilities for the Digital Future – to coordinate and promote initiatives to address the global deficit in professional skills, effective leadership and adequate capabilities in the cyber domain.

The platform is working on a number of ongoing activities to meet these challenges. Current initiatives include our successful work with a range of public- and private-sector partners to develop a clear and coherent cybersecurity vision for the electricity industry in the form of Board Principles for managing cyber risk in the electricity ecosystem and a complete framework, created in collaboration with the Forum’s investment community, enabling investors to assess the security preparedness of target companies, contributing to raising internal cybersecurity awareness.

For more information, please contact info@c4c-weforum.org.

“A free charge could end up draining your bank account,” Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak warns, adding the malware has the ability to lock devices and share passwords with hackers.

Cyber sneaks

The vulnerability of USB chargers, combined with the rise in sophisticated malware targeting smartphones, is something security experts have warned against for some years. Back in 2016, the FBI issued a nationwide warning after one particular piece of hardware, KeySweeper, was used to steal keystrokes from nearby wireless keyboards.

USB cables left in charging points are particularly risky, drawing in people who may not be carrying their own cable.

Preventing malware and ransomware is the biggest cyber security challenge, followed by identifying vulnerabilities.
Image: Statista

A recent report from security software firm BlackBerry highlighted the risks our mobile phone opens us up to. Hackers take advantage of the fact we tend to be more trusting of these devices than we are of desktop computers. The report cites espionage campaigns that have targeted Pakistan’s military and government through fake apps.

Have you been the victim of a malware infection on your mobile device.
Image: Statista

Practice safe charging

There are a few steps you can take to keep your mobile phone or device charged and safe on the move – including investing in a USB condom. These small devices prevent cables from transferring data, and limit them to accessing the power source.

Other tips include making sure your device is fully charged before you go out, using standard plug power outlets rather than USB charging stations and using portable, personal chargers for emergencies.

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