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Air Travel

The New Sneaky Way Hackers Are Stealing Your Data at the Airport

A seemingly convenient public charging port could lead to a data breach.

Public charging ports, which have proliferated in airport terminals in recent years, might feel beneficial if your device needs to juice up before your flight. But now, the FBI is warning travelers against using them all together due to cybersecurity concerns.

“Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices,” states the FBI’s warning, which went out on Twitter in early April.

This cyber-theft tactic is commonly called “juice jacking,” according to privacy expert Amir Tarighat, CEO of cybersecurity firm Agency. It involves “concealing implanted malware within the physical charging cord or port, so when you connect your phone to a public charging station it’s exposed,” he says.

If an airport charging station is compromised and your device is infected, troves of personal information could be accessed. “Your passwords, your cards, your account number—if a hacker can get into your phone, they could get access to all of it,” Tarighat says. 

Beyond simply stealing your data, malware presents a more complex scope of concerns, according to Tarighat, like installing spyware that can instruct the device to do something like download an app, pay for a product, screen record, or track what you type on your keyboard (a type of spyware called key-logging).

Of course, we all need to charge our devices while in transit. But it’s best to use your own USB cord plugged directly into an old fashioned wall outlet or even into a portable charger you brought from home. Public charging ports should be avoided outside the airport, too, whether they’re in hotels, event spaces, or on the street corner. Cyber-attacks could happen at any of them, regardless of their location.

If you do suspect your information might have been exposed, there are steps you can take to limit the damage. “First, you can check which of your accounts might be compromised using this free Dark Web Report,” Tarighat says. “From there, take an inventory of what personal information you have out there. Hackers often cross-reference the information they already have with public records, like former addresses, so they can gain further access to your accounts.” Tarighat recommends pursuing a public records removal service to limit the amount of secondary information hackers are able to find.

Aside from the public charging stations, there are other surreptitious ways hackers can access the personal information on your device from the airport terminal. “Definitely avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots,” says Tarighat. “Those networks don't have the same protections as your at-home Wi-Fi. If the public network isn’t secure, hackers can hijack your session and log in as you, leaving your private documents, photos, and login credentials up for grabs.” 

For travelers, being as vigilant in airports about their devices and data as they are with their luggage, passport, and other personal belongings can save them a lot of stress down the road.