BY DOREEN CHRISTENSEN
If your cellphone battery is running low, don’t plug it into a USB charging station at the airport or mall, officials are warning consumers as the busy holiday season gets underway.
Those convenient USB charging stations in public places could be loaded with malware by criminals looking to steal your money and identity, warned the Los Angeles district attorney in a recent Twitter post.
This growing cyber threat, known as “juice jacking,’’ poses serious risks to smartphones, tablets and computers. In as little as one minute, a virus can be transferred to unsuspecting users’ devices. Then, the virus begins exporting sensitive data and passwords directly to the scammers.
Instead, use your own charging cord to plug directly into an electrical outlet, experts say.
HOW SCAM WORKS
The warning comes as a record number of travelers get ready to hit the road for Thanksgiving and hot-foot it to malls to buy holiday gifts.
Here’s how the scam works: A computer is concealed within the charging kiosk or on cables left plugged in that are programmed to automatically pair with smartphones when they are plugged in.
The rogue computer can then freely access all the information stored on electronic devices, from passwords to emails, to address books to photos to text messages. It can even do a full backup of your phone, all of which can be accessed wirelessly by the crooks.
“A free charge could end up draining your bank account,” said Deputy District Attorney Luke Sisak in a video posted to the Los Angeles County’s website.
Instead, Sisak suggests playing it safe by plugging into an AC power outlet with your own charging cord or using a portable charger. Also, adding a passcode or enabling the fingerprint scanner or face ID will help foil an attack.