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If you’ve ever been anxious about your phone running out of battery power in an airport, recent advisories from two government agencies added to the concerns: Using a public USB charging port could get your device hacked, they said.
“Avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers,” the FBI’s Denver field office tweeted April 6, an echo of a news release from the FBI’s Portland, Oregon, office in November 2020. “Bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices.”
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The Federal Communications Commission followed April 11 with an update of its 2019 advisory.
“If your battery is running low, be aware [of] juicing up your electronic device at free USB port charging stations,” the notice says. “You could become a victim of ‘juice jacking,’ yet another cybertheft tactic.”
What is juice jacking?
Like carjacking and skyjacking before it, juice jacking is a catchy phrase that plays on words — juice as the slang for battery power and jacking for hijacking. The concern is you could unknowingly download malicious software that can siphon off your files and passwords or lock a device until you’re forced to buy a bogus cure for the problem.
The alliterative juice-jacking label prompted myriad media outlets to jump on the story, many without noticing that something was missing in the agencies’ warnings: actual case counts or complaints.
Asked if its April 6 warning came from knowledge of a specific threat, the FBI’s public affairs office calls it “a general reminder for the American public to stay safe and diligent, especially while traveling.”
The FCC also can’t point to new information or document cases of juice jacking. Nor can the agency that runs the capital’s Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport and Washington Dulles International Airport.
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