ALBANY — The New York State Division of Consumer Protection is alerting consumers to public connections like USB and WIFI. Universal Service Bus (USB) is an industry standard for connection ports. WiFi is the industry term for the wireless internet connections created from internet modems. These ports are meant for convenience while consumers are “out and about,” but they can result in people skimming private data, malware installations, and other software deployments that are hard to detect and control.

New York State Secretary of State Rossana Rosado said, “millions of people every day step out into the world, and all its surrounding technology. As technology grows and continues to make our lives easier, it is also making it easier for hackers to get access to our information. It is important for consumers to know what they can do to protect themselves.”

Today, USB connections are available on all our devices, allowing us to charge, connect and network our devices and our data. Rather than having to connect directly to a server, WiFi allows us to wirelessly connect to the internet. WiFi capabilities are also available on most devices today.

As technology connections are made easier through USB and WiFi, the ability to connect to our devices is also easier for hackers. Sometimes when a hacker connects, they send a message and freeze people’s data. However, more frequently nowadays, a hacker says nothing and pushes their malware onto a device to gain continued access to more and more of a person’s private device data.

Looking to charge your phone before getting on that long-haul flight or that subway ride?

“If it’s not yours, don’t touch it” – USB cords can transfer more than electricity. Data can be stored on some cords either directly when you leave the cord after charging or wirelessly while you are charging.

Charge at home and/or carry an extra battery. It sounds simple, but the safer way to operate your phone is make sure it’s charged before leaving the house. If you are out for a majority of the day and do not have access to a secure charging station, carry a battery extension. That way you can charge up on a power source you control.

If you absolutely must charge your phone on a public charging station, power down your device first and use your own USB cord.

If you absolutely have to connect to check an email, shop, or schedule something important, take precautions:

Know the hotspots you are connecting to – hackers often create hotspots near common public Wi-Fi and make the names very similar to places like hotels and coffee shops.

Do not “automatically” connect to available Wi-Fi hotspots. Update your phone settings to choose Wi-Fi connections each time you encounter them.

Close all apps before you connect.

Don’t open private information (bank apps, credit card apps) when you are connected.

Don’t use any games that are connected to your social media—this allows for hacking to take “the long route” into your information. Hackers use social media to find additional information about you and your accounts.

DCP provides voluntary mediation between a consumer and a business when a consumer has experienced a marketplace loss and been unsuccessful at reaching a resolution on their own.

The Consumer Assistance Helpline 1-800-697-1220 is available Monday to Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., excluding State holidays, and consumer complaints can be filed at any time at www.dos.ny.gov/consumerprotection.