A Forbes story in my Twitter feed recently caught my eye titled, “Why You Should Never Use Airport USB Charging Stations.” I immediately sent it to The Tech Guy, Leo Laporte, to see if it’s true that, as it says in the story, “cybercriminals can modify those USB connections to install malware on your phone or download data without your knowledge.” Leo wrote back immediately, saying, “Yes. There’s a huge risk plugging into USB ports. Alternatively, you can use what Steve Gibson calls a ‘USB condom.’ This is what I use. With this [device] you can safely plug into any USB port for charging only.”
In the Forbes story, author Suzanne Rowan Kelleher writes that state-sponsored hacker groups are increasingly “training their sights on travelers, according to new research from IBM Security.” And to really drive home the need to be wary of these USB ports, here’s how Caleb Barlow, Vice President of X-Force Threat Intelligence at IBM Security,” described the risk to Forbes: “Plugging into a public USB port is kind of like finding a toothbrush on the side of the road and deciding to stick it in your mouth. You have no idea where that thing has been.”
This is great to know because these days there are USB ports available in airports, airplanes, hotels, car rentals, cruise ships, you name it. We all need to charge our devices once in a while, so it seems it would be wise to get this “USB condom” for those moments. Another option is to plug your USB charger directly into an electrical outlet using an adapter or your own charger, which is what I do when I’m traveling. In any case, be wary of any public USB charging station.
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