Travelers: Beware of airport cell phone charging stations

Are airport charging stations safe?

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - It’s almost a no-brainer as airline passengers to travel with our cell phones in tow. So those airport charging stations are not only convenient, they’re a necessary evil.

“You don’t know the true digital hygeine of that charging station,” says cyber security expert Theresa Payton.

Payton says you should really think twice about using these. They are not monitored. So anyone can come through and alter the USB hookups, especially if they have bad intentions.

“Just like when you pump gas or use an ATM, how atm skimmers and gas skimmers are put into place. [It’s] very similar. So you could have someone actually tampering with these charging systems and using that to spy on you,” says Payton. “That charging station could be manipulated and still be charging your phone, but not send a message to your phone letting you know that I’m going to be taking your data right now.”

What also makes you vulnerable is when you’re using the phone while it’s hooked up and charging.

“That is the moment they can present you with -- they can push you a screen. You click on the screen thinking you’re looking at the weather. You are looking at the weather but you’re also accepting a download behind the scenes potentially of malware,” Payton explains.

So travelers beware. Even though these instances so far are rare, if you unknowingly fall victim it’s like shouting your personal information at the top of your lungs.

“Once things hit a critical mass, that’s when you’re going to see cyber criminals make a play... it’s just a matter of time,” says Payton.

If you plan on traveling, what is a better option if you need to charge? Payton suggests traveling with a portable charger so you’re not using a public charging station.

If you’re in a bind and don’t have portable charger, she says there are apps that block spyware so when you plug in those apps can protect your info. She also says keep the phone locked and close out your apps while charging.

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