USB charging ports in public places can pose cybersecurity risk – InForum | #hacking | #cybersecurity | #infosec | #comptia | #pentest | #ransomware

FARGO — The FBI is warning people to not use free USB phone chargers found in public places like airports and malls because of a cybersecurity risk.

The Bureau’s Baltimore office recently posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, about how connecting to these public ports can potentially let hackers access your phone and steal your personal info.

The director of NDSU’s Cybersecurity Institute and Associate Professor of Computer Science Jeremy Straub said USB ports can function in two ways: Transferring power and transferring data.

When it comes to USB chargers in public settings, it’s the data that’s the problem.

“So you’ll have someone plugging into it thinking they’re only going to get power out of it in a public place, and some nefarious person has gone in there and they’ve inserted something that’s actually using the data lines, too,” Straub said.

If you connect to a USB port that’s been tampered with, it can lead to a number of different consequences, like having passwords or banking information stolen.

“Attackers might be trying to get information off of your device, they might be trying to insert malware onto the device, they might be trying to use the device’s data connection to do something nefarious that they need a way to connect to the internet,” Straub said.

If your device has been compromised, it may be obvious, like it turning off suddenly.

“You might realize quite quickly that there’s a problem. But what can actually be more problematic is that people do that and they don’t realize there’s a problem because the attackers specifically designed their attack to not show up immediately,” Straub said.

If you think your phone has been attacked, Straub said to try rebooting it as that can potentially solve the problem. But if you’re especially concerned, you can also take it to an expert.

“If you do a lot of sensitive things on your phone, it might be better to have somebody look at it. Certainly communicating with your cell phone provider, or the device manufacturer, or your corporate IT department, would be a great way to get some additional information on it,” Straub said.

Straub said a simple way to prevent your data from being accessed is by bringing your own charger and power brick to use with a regular power outlet, because those can’t access data.


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National Cyber Security