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Juice Jacking: Another Thing to Be Afraid of While You’re Traveling

A vector illustration of Travelers Charging Their Electronic Devices in an Airport

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office has issued a warning for travelers: That free charging port at the airport could wind up being extraordinarily expensive if criminal elements have modified the charging station to infect mobile devices with malware in an effort to glean sensitive information from unsuspecting victims.

In a release with the sinister-sounding warnings: “Fraud Alert” and “USB-Charger Scam,” Los Angeles Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak issued an urgent message to holiday travelers. In a November 8th advisory, Sisak informed the public that “juice-jacking” criminals are using public USB charging ports at hotels, retail outlets and airports in an attempt to steal passengers’ personal details.

“Be warned, a free charge could end drawing your bank account in the USB-charger scam otherwise known as ‘juice-jacking,” Sisak stoically explains. “Criminals load malware onto charging stations or cables they leave at the kiosk. Once the unsuspecting user plugs in, their phone or electronic device becomes infected. Within minutes of being plugged in the malware could lock the device or send private information like passwords, addresses, or even a full backup of the phone directly to the criminal.”

The Los Angeles District Attorneys Office (LADA) says there are a few simple steps that can keep air travelers from falling victim to this scam. The prosecutors suggest using an AC power outlet rather than a USB-charging station if you must charge your phone. The office also advises having AC and car chargers on hand when traveling and to consider investing in a portable charger rather than relying on public charging stations.

While the dire warnings from the law enforcement agency will almost certainly give holiday travelers something to think about, others question exactly how serious a problem so-called juice-jacking actually is. The online fact-checking site, Snopes gave Sisak’s claims a mixed rating for truthfulness.

“Juice-jacking is a real security threat, and travelers should certainly take note of these tips from the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office,” Snopes confirmed. “However, this security threat was not new in November 2019, and safety features have been added to iOS and Android operating systems in order to combat this sort of crime. Furthermore, little evidence exists that juice jacking is a widespread problem.”

The site went on to note that when the LADA was contacted for information about incidents of juice-jacking, the agency could not point to a single case. Although “better safe than sorry” is a good rule of thumb, it doesn’t appear that juice-jacking need be a passenger’s top concern at the airport this holiday travel season.

Comments are Closed.
flatlander November 23, 2019

You need to use a "USB Condom", more politely sold as a "USB Data Blocker". It's a USB adapter that passes power but not data. Amazon has a selection of them.

SoydeSD November 22, 2019

I always travel with a powerbank so I can charge my phone packed away in my carry-on. Who would want to be tethered to a charging station anyway?

MiscMel70 November 22, 2019

So what they are saying is that there are criminals behind security at LA area airports who, in spite of all of the airport surveillance they have, are able to make modifications to electrical charging stations in view of said cameras, but they haven't been able to use any video collected to identify the individuals or even see this crime being committed during or after the fact?

Mike Rivers November 22, 2019

I have a couple of "power only" USB cables in my bag that don't have the data pins of the connector wired. They're immune to this sort of infection. Mine are orange so I don't use one when I actually want to transfer data between my phone and computer. I'm sure you can buy them somewhere, but I'm not sure where. The ones I have came with things other than phones. It would be nice if every phone charger came with one, but too many people wouldn't bother to read the instructions and bug them about a non-working cable.

Fehdward November 21, 2019

Some mothers think the entire world should accommodate to their needs. That is unacceptable.