With so much public attention to viruses, ransomware and cyberattacks, you might think that you’ve heard all the possible ways someone can attack your computers or mobile devices. But there are many bad actors who have devised devious ways to get your data through public charging stations, USB hub power stations and thumb drives.
Public Wi-Fi Poses a Cybersecurity Risk
Watch out for Wi-Fi hotspots that are not sponsored by an airport or your hotel. If you notice that the airport or hotel’s Wi-Fi service has a slight variance in the service’s name or has a #2 added to the actual name of the hotspot, that is a fake hotspot used by scammers. Others can access your computer or phone and use it as a launch pad for other activities.
Public Charging Stations Can Collect Your Private Data
For the convenience of travelers, airports offer free charging stations. However, “free” is not always good and it is easy for a tired traveler to make security mistakes.
A new way for hackers to access your data is through phone data cords plugged into “free” USB charging stations. These phone data cords can also be used to connect your phone to a USB port on your laptop. When you transfer data or pictures from your phone to your laptop, for example, that data or those images are vulnerable to a hacker.
Unfortunately, some USB charging hubs have more than just a charging capability. They can contain a hidden hard drive that can suck in your personal photographs, an important PowerPoint presentation or Word documents relating to your company’s business. This type of data is valuable and eagerly sought by hackers.
USB Hub Power Stations Could Also Be a Cybersecurity Risk
Be wary of public USB hubs with eight plug-in ports. When you plug your USB device into one of these ports, do you know the people around you who are also plugged into the ports? Your company’s competitors or your government’s enemy could be using those same ports.
That same hub could be configured to allow one port to pull data from the other ports by introducing a new motherboard or modifying the existing motherboard in the USB hub power station. Most of us have no idea of that potential for hacking when we blindly plug in our devices and are happy to get free power. Depending on the data loss you could incur, maybe that power is not really “free.”
USB Thumb Drives ‘Lost’ in Parking Lots
Penetration testers, hackers and espionage agents have another way to collect your data through what appear to be “lost” thumb drives. They will drop a couple of USB thumb drives in company or government parking lots. This process is called “seeding.”
Unwary employees pick up these thumb drives, take them into their office and plug them into their computer. Most of these people are Good Samaritans simply trying to identify the owner and return the thumb drive. Sadly, the thumb drive could contain a virus that attacks the organization’s networks and allows outsiders in to steal data.
This same seeding technique has worked at conventions and conferences. Convention display booth workers often hand out thumb drives that ostensibly feature their company’s products. But the same thumb drives can contain vulnerabilities that are a hazard to your network and data.
Cybersecurity Precautions to Take When You Travel
- In airports or other public facilities, do not trust free USB hub power stations. Carry a second power pack, power cord or battery to power up your devices.
- Be wary of Wi-Fi hotspots that have additional numbers or misspellings in their names.
- Never pick up a “lost” USB thumb drive and stick it into your computer or mobile device. Turn it into your organization’s security office. If you have no other alternative, plug it into a stand-alone machine, not one that is connected to your organization’s network.
The common link to all of these types of cyberattack is the lure of getting something for free. As someone once said, nothing in life is free. Sometimes in cyber, free can be a hazard and cause disruption.
About the Author
James R. Lint recently retired as the (GG-15) civilian director for intelligence and security, G2, U.S. Army Communications Electronics Command. He is an adjunct professor at AMU. James has been involved in cyberespionage events from just after the turn of the century in Korea supporting 1st Signal Brigade to the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis as the first government cyber intelligence analyst. He has 38 years of experience in military intelligence with the U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Army, government contracting and civil service.
Additionally, James started the Lint Center for National Security Studies, a nonprofit charity that recently awarded its 45th scholarship for national security students and professionals. James was also elected as the 2015 national vice president for the Military Intelligence Corps Association. He has also served in the Department of Energy’s S&S Security Office after his active military career in the Marine Corps for seven years and 14 years in the Army. His military assignments include South Korea, Germany and Cuba, in addition to numerous CONUS locations. In 2017, he was appointed to the position of Adjutant for The American Legion, China Post 1. James has authored a book published in 2013, “Leadership and Management Lessons Learned,” a book published in 2016, “8 Eyes on Korea, A Travel Perspective of Seoul, Korea,” and a new book in 2017, “Secrets to Getting a Federal Government Job.”