Smart Holidays: Where not to charge your phone

This is the third in WTOP’s consumer series Smart Holidays, which explores concerns associated with smart devices and how consumers can better protect themselves this holiday season.

Read Part 1: Protect your smart doorbell from hackers

Read Part 2: What to gift wrap along with a smart display

Charging your phone is a necessity, but where you plug-in on the go could leave you vulnerable to holiday hackers. One of D.C.’s top cybersecurity experts is offering tips on how to keep your battery strong and your information secure.

When it comes to complimentary USB charging hubs at airports, malls and arenas, D.C. Forensics Lab Chief of Cybersecurity Tracy Walraven warns you might want to think twice before using them.

Walraven said where you see a convenient charging spot, hackers likely see a target. She suggests bringing your own charger so you’re not unknowingly allowing access to your data.

“Who would have thought that a USB cable for charging your phone would be dangerous?” said Walraven. “But the new reality is people are finding fancier and much cooler ways to get into stuff.”

What about when your phone is dying in an Uber or Lyft? Walraven cautions against plugging into what is essentially someone else’s computer on wheels.

“Usually there’s one specific USB port, or there’s some sort of syncing feature with Bluetooth. Well, it’s a car with a hard drive or data storage mechanism in it, it’s just going to do what it’s supposed to do, which is collect data.

Perhaps you don’t care that another car downloaded your Spotify playlists, but Walraven said consumers should be aware that by plugging their phone-in anywhere, they are subjecting themselves to a loss of privacy at best, and a financial or identity hack at worst.

Think twice before connecting to public Wi-Fi as well, which opens your phone to anyone with who is also on that network, Walraven said.

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