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Those free USB charging ports could rob you blind

It’s called “juice jacking,” which may sound as innocuous as a toddler ripping the sippy cup out of a playmate’s hands, but this is very much a grownup problem, unless that kid is already using a cellphone.

Juice jacking is the devious practice by which bad guys hijack a public USB charging port and use it to steal information from your phone or tablet.

Those same ports you’re relieved to find when your electronic device is low on power have become a cause for worry.

This isn’t a new problem, experts say, but it has returned to the radar because the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office recently warned unsuspecting users about “criminals [who] load malware onto charging stations or cables they leave plugged in at the stations so they may infect the phones and other electronic devices of unsuspecting users.”

If this isn’t new, why is it an issue now? It’s not only because it’s the time of year when travel is up but also because many of us rely on those chargers to get us through long days of travel, said Ron Culler, senior director of technology and solutions at ADT CyberSecurity.

And here I was, Pollyannishly thinking those ports — in airports, on a plane, or in a coffee shop — were just good, old-fashioned human kindness, a port in a traveler’s storm.

It’s a storm, all right, but that port is no port. If it contains malware coupled with evil intent, it’s no lifeline, either. In fact, it can be a life-wrecker.

“Just as you wouldn’t plug an unfamiliar USB drive into your laptop, you shouldn’t plug your phone into an unfamiliar USB charger,” Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate with Comparitech, which offers security solutions and help, said in an email. “Our devices have fewer defenses against attacks from physically connected devices than [from[ attacks from the internet. The malware can also be much more severe with physical access to hardware.”