People often use free charging stations in public spaces to replenish the batteries in their phones, laptops and other electronic devices.
But the FBI is now warning against using these stations, saying that hackers have learned how to compromise them.
“Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers,” FBI Denver tweeted on April 6.
“Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices,” FBI Denver said.
When contacted by McClatchy News, a spokesperson for the FBI Denver office said the alert did not stem from a specific incident but was a routine public service announcement.
The warning resulted from a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) notice that outlines the risks associated with public charging stations.
“If your battery is running low, be aware that juicing up your electronic device at free USB port charging stations, such as those found near airport gates, in hotels and other travel-friendly locations, could have unfortunate consequences,” the FCC’s website said. “You could become a victim of ‘juice jacking,’ a new cyber-theft tactic.”
Juice jacking occurs when criminals upload malware — software designed to infiltrate a computer — onto the USB ports at charging stations, allowing them to access sensitive information on devices that are plugged in, according to the FCC.
Hackers can simply swap out the USB ports for their own predatory hardware, Vyas Sekar, an engineering professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told The New York Times in 2019.
“People want the convenience of charging their phones and tablets wherever they go,” Sekar told the Times. “Obviously I would like it too, but there is a risk.”
Instead of using free public stations, the FCC and FBI suggest using electrical outlets, carrying portable chargers or external batteries and only using your own USB cord.