How cyber thieves hack cell phones through public charging stations

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Ready to travel this holiday weekend? Heed this big warning before charging your phone on the go: cybercriminals can hack your phone through some public charging stations.

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You are in an airport, hotel or restaurant and you desperately need to recharge your mobile phone. You plug it into a public USB charging station, but you may have plugged it right into the hands of a hacker.

“I see a lot of people at these charging stations who are completely unaware,” said Ken Smiley, executive vice president of Amegy Bank, speaking to warn consumers of the problem.

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This is called “juice jacking”, where a cyber thief can either hack into the charging system or download malware or a virus which is then downloaded through the USB port to your phone while it is in charge.

“When you plug in your phone or laptop, iPad or any other type of tablet, it can download malware to your phone,” Smiley explained.

Now the hacker can steal your personal information or passwords, or access your bank account or credit cards stored on the phone.

“It’s really a problem,” he said. “And no one knows.”

Some criminals even distribute infected cables as a promotional giveaway. To protect yourself, bring your own wall-plug phone charger and plug it into a wall outlet instead.

“Use a wall outlet. Some people don’t use the cube or the power adapter, find it and bring it,” Smiley said.

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You can carry your own cell phone charger or power bank, or you can block data transfer using a USB cable designed only for charging or a USB data blocker.

Another warning from the Federal Trade Commission: hackers are also targeting travelers via public Wi-Fi networks.

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