The FBI warns iPhone & Mac owners off using public USB chargers

iPhones stacked on top of each other
(Image credit: Future)

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned iPhone and Mac owners not to use publicly available and free USB chargers over concerns that they could be used as a distribution method for malware and monitoring software.

The warning came via a post to Twitter in which the FBI instead urged device owners to use their own charger and USB cable rather than rely on those that are offered by others.

In the case of the iPhone Apple doesn't ship a charger with the device anymore, although it does at least put a USB-C to Lightning cable in the box. But even the best iPhone money can buy will require you to pick up your own charger, although Apple does offer one for sale separately.

Use an electrical outlet instead

The FBI's warning says that people should "avoid using free charging stations in airports, hotels or shopping centers," going on to say that "bad actors have figured out ways to use public USB ports to introduce malware and monitoring software onto devices."

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The tweet, which was first spotted by CNBC, suggests that people should use known-safe cables and chargers instead.

The tweet didn't reference a specific instance of a cable or charger being used to compromise a phone, tablet, or computer but it does raise the question of whether people can trust the chargers that they see dotted around public spaces. Airports in particular are places where people might choose to top off their iPhones before boarding a flight for example.

While most people needn't worry about targeted attacks, this kind of indiscriminate security threat could prove problematic for anyone and everyone. It's for that reason that people should always make sure that they have the latest version of iOS, iPadOS, and macOS installed on their devices to ensure that they have the latest security updates available to them.

Oliver Haslam

Oliver Haslam has written about Apple and the wider technology business for more than a decade with bylines on How-To Geek, PC Mag, iDownloadBlog, and many more. He has also been published in print for Macworld, including cover stories. At iMore, Oliver is involved in daily news coverage and, not being short of opinions, has been known to 'explain' those thoughts in more detail, too.

Having grown up using PCs and spending far too much money on graphics card and flashy RAM, Oliver switched to the Mac with a G5 iMac and hasn't looked back. Since then he's seen the growth of the smartphone world, backed by iPhone, and new product categories come and go. Current expertise includes iOS, macOS, streaming services, and pretty much anything that has a battery or plugs into a wall. Oliver also covers mobile gaming for iMore, with Apple Arcade a particular focus. He's been gaming since the Atari 2600 days and still struggles to comprehend the fact he can play console quality titles on his pocket computer.