In the prelude to the bustling Christmas season, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office is warning travelers of a USB charger scam, also known as a “charge attack.”
“A free charge could end up depleting your bank account,” prosecutor Luke Sisak said in a video posted online this month.
A “charge attack” or juice jack, as it is known in English, occurs when unwary users plug their electronic devices into USB ports or use USB cables that were previously loaded with a malicious program.
The malicious program continues to infect the device, giving them access to hackers. With this access, cybercriminals can read and export your information, including your passwords, and even lock your device, making it impossible to use it.
To avoid charging attacks, experts recommend avoiding public USB ports and using official portable batteries and chargers. To avoid charging attacks, experts recommend avoiding public USB ports and using official portable batteries and chargers.
The “charge attack” takes advantage of the daily need to have the battery fully charged, said Liviu Arsene, cyber security expert at BitDefender, a Romanian cyber security and antivirus software company.
Arsene recommends not using USB cables that are already plugged into charging stations or even those that are given as promotional gifts.
“Simply put, you can make these maliciously crafted cables look identical to any other cable,” Arsene explained. “When people see, don’t think or expect it to be risky.”
Other ways to protect yourself include having your own chargers, plugging directly into an electrical outlet, and using portable batteries purchased from certified suppliers, Arsene said.
“Don’t believe everything you see or everything you touch,” he said, and noted that on Black Friday, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
It’s not just cables that pose a risk to technology consumers. They are also the USB ports.
Just as scammers who steal debit card numbers with illegal card readers or skimmers at ATMs, hackers can easily boot USB ports and replace them with their own malicious devices, said Vyas Sekar, a professor at CyLab, a Carnegie Mellon University’s security and privacy research institute.
“If the attacker has physical access to the socket, it will be easy to modify,” says Sekar.
While Arsene and Sekar said they were unsure how often such an attack would occur, the growing ubiquity of USB charging ports in places such as hotels, airports, and public transportation implies a greater risk of being attacked. kind of scams.
“People want the convenience of being able to carry their phones and tablets wherever they are,” Sekar said, adding, “Of course I would like that too, but there is a risk.”
Sekar mentioned that consumers can also use USB cable protection devices, known as “USB condoms”.
“It’s a pretty simple trick,” he said. “Essentially, what these ‘USB condoms’ do is disable the USB charger data pin.”
This means the device battery will be charged, but the cable cannot send or receive data.
“You can buy it for less than five dollars and you can really save it,” Sekar said.
The Los Angeles County Public Prosecutor’s Office shared the same advice that cyber security experts offered consumers, such as using electrical outlets rather than a USB charging station, having their own AC adapters and car chargers, and bringing a portable charger. emergencies.
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