PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - Most people rely on their phones every day. And when they're in public and their battery runs low, grabbing a charge has never been easier.
“It’s nice to be able to go places and charge your phone and plug in with a USB or electric or whatever,” Mike Moroni, a traveler at Portland International Airport said.
But Travis Smith, principal security researcher at the cybersecurity company Tripwire said a public USB port can actually put someone at risk for something called “juice jacking.”
“So, a USB charger or a USB cable the way it’s used, whenever you plug it in, it’s going to be supplying power, but also has the ability to transfer data,” Smith said.
Smith compared juice jacking to ATM skimming.
“What people do for juice jacking is they will have some type of malicious either charging cable or the actual port that a USB plug would go into," Smith said. “So the act of juice jacking is while they’re supplying you power, you’re supplying them your data.”
Smith said it can happen in any public place like airports, coffee shops, hotels, theme parks and even rental cars.
“It should be safe for us,” PDX traveler Tanya Senn said. “I know there’s a lot of hacking nowadays and you have to be careful.”
“Your personal data is not secured,” Moroni said. “It’s kind of scary.”
Thankfully, Smith said it’s very easy for someone to protect their information. First, Smith said someone can plug their phone into an actual wall outlet. They can also buy what’s called a sync stop.
“And what that is, is a device that you plug your USB into, that then you plug that USB into the device, what that is, is inside the little contraption, it allows the power to go through, but it does not allow data to be transferred back and forth,” said Smith.
Smith said this is something people should be concerned about, because we use our phones every day.
“We have pictures of our kids, of our families, we do banking, we do shopping, everything, our whole lives are managed by our phones, so just by allowing a hacker to get into this kind of stuff, you’re allowing them to basically have insight into your entire life and potentially control your entire life," Smith said.
Smith is clear this is a rare attack. He said it’s actually difficult for hackers to juice jack in a highly-monitored place like an airport, without getting caught.
But Smith said it’s not impossible and people should protect themselves.
FOX 12 checked with Portland International Airport, a spokesperson said they’ve never heard of an attack like this happening at PDX.
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