FBI warns against using public USB charging ports

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(DENVER) — The FBI is warning the public against using charging stations in malls and at airports, according to a tweet from the bureau’s Denver office.

The public charging stations could be a conduit for bad actors to introduce malware onto personal devices, officials warn.

“Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers,” the FBI Denver said. “Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices. Carry your own charger and USB cord and use an electrical outlet instead.”

The FBI didn’t respond to ABC News’ request for comment on whether there has been a rise in malicious activity related to the cyber-theft tactic known as “juice jacking.”

Javed Ali, the former senior director for counterterrorism at the National Security Council, told ABC News that the information tweet was likely “informed by an FBI-driven investigation or other intelligence that has now been approved for public release.”

“The tweet’s message that public USB ports have been used by “bad actors” as points of origin to load malware or spyware on electronic devices connected to those public charging stations suggests a fairly high level of technical capability in order to carry out these operations,” Ali, now an Associate Professor of Practice at the University of Michigan’s Ford School of Public Policy said.

A 2021 alert posted by the Federal Communications Commission warned that using a public charger could lead to malicious software on a device without the user’s knowledge.

“Cybersecurity experts have warned that criminals can load malware onto public USB charging stations to maliciously access electronic devices while they are being charged,” the alert, initially posted around the holiday season warned. “Malware installed through a dirty USB port can lock a device or export personal data and passwords directly to the perpetrator. Criminals can use that information to access online accounts or sell it to other bad actors.”

While officials did not offer statistics about the prevalence of juice jacking, people have increasingly suffered from cyber-theft in recent years. Americans lost $10.3 billion to a wide variety of internet scams last year, according to an FBI report released last month.

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