• Charging your phone at public USB points like those in airports may put you at risk of ‘juice jacking’
  • Hackers can steal your data and passwords in public locations
  • The Los Angeles District Attorney has warned about USB charger scams

We all know the feeling of panic when your mobile phone is about to die when you're out and about – and the feeling of relief when you find a convenient place to give it a power boost.

But security experts are urging people to think twice before plugging in. “Juice jacking” – or using public USB connections to introduce malware to smartphones and other devices – is an increasingly popular ploy by cyber criminals.

Travellers are advised to stop charging their mobile phones and devices at public USB charging points like those found at airports and hotels because of the risk they present. The Los Angeles District Attorney recently issued a warning about fraud due to USB charger scams.

What is the World Economic Forum doing on cybersecurity

The World Economic Forum's Centre for Cybersecurity is leading the global response to address systemic cybersecurity challenges and improve digital trust. We are an independent and impartial global platform committed to fostering international dialogues and collaboration on cybersecurity in the public and private sectors. We bridge the gap between cybersecurity experts and decision makers at the highest levels to reinforce the importance of cybersecurity as a key strategic priority.

Our community has three key priorities:

Strengthening Global Cooperation - to increase global cooperation between public and private stakeholders to foster a collective response to cybercrime and address key security challenges posed by barriers to cooperation.

Understanding Future Networks and Technology - to identify cybersecurity challenges and opportunities posed by new technologies, and accelerate forward-looking solutions.

Building Cyber Resilience - to develop and amplify scalable solutions to accelerate the adoption of best practices and increase cyber resilience.

Initiatives include building a partnership to address the global cyber enforcement gap through improving the efficiency and effectiveness of public-private collaboration in cybercrime investigations; equipping business decision makers and cybersecurity leaders with the tools necessary to govern cyber risks, protect business assets and investments from the impact of cyber-attacks; and enhancing cyber resilience across key industry sectors such as electricity, aviation and oil & gas. We also promote mission aligned initiatives championed by our partner organizations.

The Forum is also a signatory of the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace which aims to ensure digital peace and security which encourages signatories to protect individuals and infrastructure, to protect intellectual property, to cooperate in defense, and refrain from doing harm.

For more information, please contact us.

“A free charge could end up draining your bank account," Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak warns, adding the malware has the ability to lock devices and share passwords with hackers.

Cyber sneaks

The vulnerability of USB chargers, combined with the rise in sophisticated malware targeting smartphones, is something security experts have warned against for some years. Back in 2016, the FBI issued a nationwide warning after one particular piece of hardware, KeySweeper, was used to steal keystrokes from nearby wireless keyboards.

USB cables left in charging points are particularly risky, drawing in people who may not be carrying their own cable.

Preventing malware and ransomware is the biggest cyber security challenge, followed by identifying vulnerabilities.
Image: Statista

A recent report from security software firm BlackBerry highlighted the risks our mobile phone opens us up to. Hackers take advantage of the fact we tend to be more trusting of these devices than we are of desktop computers. The report cites espionage campaigns that have targeted Pakistan’s military and government through fake apps.

Have you been the victim of a malware infection on your mobile device.
Image: Statista

Practice safe charging

There are a few steps you can take to keep your mobile phone or device charged and safe on the move – including investing in a USB condom. These small devices prevent cables from transferring data, and limit them to accessing the power source.

Other tips include making sure your device is fully charged before you go out, using standard plug power outlets rather than USB charging stations and using portable, personal chargers for emergencies.