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Cyber crooks ramp up for holidays as consumers relax

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As consumers slow down for the year-end break, cybercriminals are entering their biggest time of the year yet, writes DOROS HADJIZENONOS.

As consumers wind down for a much-needed year-end break, cybercriminals are entering their busiest time of year. A time when consumers are quick to snap up festive season savings and when they use their devices more for entertainment and less for work.

While most people will be reading books or letting their children play games on their devices, some will still access their work emails and documents at the beach. It is therefore crucial that businesses adopt robust, user-friendly security technology that protects users when they’re not in the office.

Ideally, all business-sensitive information should be stored in a capsule on devices that is separate from the user’s personal information. The password-protected capsule should only be accessible by authorised users and should encrypt all information stored within it so that the data remains secure if the device is lost or stolen.

Ignorance is not bliss

Information security cannot only be the responsibility of the IT department, especially when users access private and business information on one device. Not only should users take steps to protect their devices but they should also be aware of the tactics used by cybercriminals to trick people into downloading malicious apps or visiting harmful websites. They should also use common sense when granting apps permission to access information on their devices – a photo editing app does not need access to a phone’s contacts list, for example.

Festive season cybercrime tactics often involve “discounts” when shopping online or through a retailer’s app. What consumers are often unaware of is that, even though the app or URL look legitimate, they are not have been designed with the sole purpose of stealing information.

The fact that users can often bypass app stores and download apps directly from publishers’ websites has made it easier for cybercriminals to trick people. By simply sending an email that appears to come from a trusted retailer, prompting the user to download its app to receive a R200 discount voucher, hackers take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers looking to save money on their festive expenses, simply by directing them to a link that downloads a fake app.

All it takes is one click and the app will have access to a user’s camera, microphone, GPS location, contacts, calendar and anything else the user allows it to, because let’s face it, no one reads the list of permissions when downloading apps; we blindly accept the terms and conditions without a second thought. And hackers know this.

Apps behaving badly

Hackers may create an app that looks legitimate but has malware installed in it.

Consider a traveller who has arrived in a new city and wants to download a local city guide application. These are readily advertised in tourist locations with a QR code. A hacker could stick his own QR code over the poster advertising the application and the unsuspecting tourist would then be directed to the hacker’s application that looks exactly the same as the original city guide application.

Once a user has downloaded what he thinks is an app to help him find interesting city information, he will be oblivious to the fact that a hacker is monitoring his every move. And because he gave the app permission to access many parts of his phone (including photos, camera, microphone, GPS location, etc), it is possible for the hacker to view this information as well as send screen captures of whatever is displayed on the screen, which can put company information at risk even though a secure container may be used to store this information.

Multi-layered security

Just as we protect our houses with security bars, electric fencing, alarm systems, beams and guard dogs, companies also need a multi-layered security approach, so that if a hacker breaches one system, there’s a good chance he’ll be tripped up by another.

While anti-virus solutions are good at blocking known malware, they are less effective against unknown malware. Hackers can also turn known malware into unknown malware in minutes using freely available online modification tools. Security should therefore be bolstered by sandboxing and other security monitoring tools.

Once an app bypasses the anti-virus system, a sandboxing solution will emulate how the app will perform if a user were to open it and will either alert the user if it is malicious or prevent the user from downloading it.

The next level of control involves monitoring the app for suspicious behaviour once it does execute, for example, if the device’s camera still records even though it is turned off. The software will either alert the user to the suspicious behaviour or quarantine the app for further investigation.

It’s tempting to agree to download an app in exchange for 25% off a shopping cart, but users should exercise caution and investigate not only the link they are being directed to but also the information the app asks to access before installing it. It’s safer to go directly to the retailer’s website and follow the download links, or to download the verified app from an app store, than to blindly trust a link in an email or SMS.

Businesses should assume that consumers are not protecting their devices or following due diligence when downloading apps and should implement multi-layered security systems that make it difficult for malicious apps to enter the network.

Hackers will continue to prey on network vulnerabilities and human error to steal information. As long as we stay one step ahead, we can afford to relax this festive season knowing our information is secure.

* Doros Hadjizenonos, Country Manager of Check Point South Africa

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AppDate: Prepare for space

In this week’s AppDate, SEAN BACHER highlights Space Nation Navigator, Hitman Sniper, Snake Mask, Memrise, WhatsApp Web, and Carrot Weather.

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Space Nation Navigator

Space Nation Navigator is a bit of a strange app. It is part game, part exercise and part educational. On the game side, users have to navigate the Mars Rover, put the International Space Station back into orbit or move their Martians to safety before a sand storm hits Mars. When it comes to exercise, Space Nation Navigator provides users with a range of exercises and Yoga videos to prepare them for space travel and working in an anti-gravity environment. The education aspect teaches users about the planets, and star constellations, and then offers quizzes on what has been taught.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Memrise

Memrise takes a new approach to help people learn new languages. Instead of providing a user with random phrases and words to memorise, the app connects you with a person already fluent in the language you want to learn. In turn, the person you are speaking to wants to learn the language in which you are fluent. Once your profile is filled out and languages selected, it connects you with people around the world who are interested in your language, and then allows you to chat with them in real-time. Memrise also lets one learn new languages through games, chatbots and grammarbots that help with spelling, tenses and pronunciations.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: A free download.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Hitman Sniper

Hitman Sniper is loosely based on the Agent 47 movie released a few years ago. The game offers players the ability to hone their shooting skills through a range of training courses and, once they think they are ready, they can start taking out the bad guys. Things start off easy enough, but they get more and more difficult as one progresses through the 150 missions on offer. One will also have to upgrade various gun components, like scopes, magazine capacities and silencers, to make the missions a little easier. Hitman Sniper lets users buy 16 to tackle each of the missions – either with real money or via the points accumulated by completing missions. Money and points can also be used to upgrade firearms.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: R7 – with a range of in-app purchases.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

 

Snake Mask

The iconic Snake game that was preinstalled on most older Nokia phones has had a complete make-over. It now uses Facebook’s AR technology, meaning that you have to navigate the snake around obstacles in your home or office, all the while collecting coins and stars that change the snake’s speed and length. Unfortunately, Snake Mask is only available on Nokia’s new range of smartphones. However, it should not take long before it slithers onto other devices.

 

Platform: New Nokia smartphones running Android.

Cost: Free to use through the Facebook app installed on the device.

Stockists: Available through the Facebook app.

 

WhatsApp Web

Although this is by no means a new app, it is an extremely useful one, and one that not many people know about. Tapping out WhatsApps on your phone is easy enough, but thanks to WhatsApp Web it can be even easier. Open the WhatApp Web page under WhatsApp and you will see a QR code. Scan this code through WhatsApp on your mobile and you will be shown a replica of what you would normally see on your phone. You can then type and reply to messages using your computer instead of having to stop everything and unlock your phone every time a message comes through. WhatsApp Web is great if you share your computer with other people as it automatically disconnects when the browser is closed. However WhatsApp also offers an app that when installed will stay connected to your phone unless you manually remove it.

 

Platform: Any up-to-date Internet browser

Cost: Free to use and install

Stockists: Visit www.WhatsApp.com

 

Carrot Weather

There are thousands of weather apps on the Internet these days and all of them do the same thing – inform you of the weather in your area. However, Carrot Weather has taken what is just another app and turned it into something fun. By fun, I mean sarcastic, rude and completely politically incorrect. A user starts off by selecting religious and political views. It then asks about personality, ranging from friendly to homicidal to overkill – which includes profanity. So, for instance, instead of waking up to to the standard partly cloudy forecast, Carrot Weather will display something like: “It’s only partly sunny, the sun is a total effing failure.” It also has a range of insults that it throws at you whenever you open the app – some of them downright insulting, so it is definitely not for those who are easily offended. The app’s user interface is very simple, displaying a week’s daily forecast and hourly forecasts for the day selected.

Platform: Android and iOS

Cost: Free to download but with adverts. The premium, advert free version costs R12 per month.

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device.

* Sean Bacher is editor of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @SeanBacher

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SA Start-up reinvents PABX

For any South African business, the idea of setting up or changing a telephonic switchboard system is the stuff of nightmares. Dealing with expensive hardware and hearing things like QSIG and VOIP is not what you’d call exciting.But now there is an app.

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Enter BuzzBox (www.buzzboxcloud.co.za), a web-based telephone switchboard that is aimed at small and medium sized businesses wanting to take the hassle and cost out of the company switchboard. Whether you are a small one-man operation or a larger organisation with staff working remotely, BuzzBox is the best switchboard solution.

What sets BuzzBox apart from anything else on the market is its easy-to-use dashboard. It puts you in control of everything from picking your phone number to setting up voice prompts and managing your business-hours schedule.

BuzzBox was developed when the startup behind it, Jini-Guru, needed such a service for its own use across multiple continents. “When we started Jini-Guru we could not find a seamless online process that would allow us to set up a full web-based switchboard, so we decided to build one for ourselves,” says Mike Smits, Director at Jini-Guru.

He says a lot of startups today are tech savvy and know how to use apps and the services that go with it. “It’s the uberisation of services and its driving demand for instant service activation.”

BuzzBox works as an app on both iOS and Android but users wanting a desk phone option can choose from a variety of devices on offer or use their existing VOIP phones.

Setting up a BuzzBox account takes 5 minutes. During registration your FICA documents are uploaded [ID and proof or residence] and you get to pick your phone number before the account is created. Companies that want to keep an existing number can do so too.

The real magic happens when you log on to the BuzzBox Dashboard. The main screen displays a summary of statistics for your account while the left-hand menu provides you quick access to various configuration settings and reports.

Setting up new extensions or external numbers is done with a few clicks and you can even set up various departments which is a great way to route a call to various people in a department, like sales or support.

The intuitive user interface also makes it easy to set up hold-music and voice prompts. You can add voice prompts by recording them straight to your phone, just make sure you use a clear voice with quiet surroundings for the best customer experience.

One of the main features of BuzzBox is its call recording feature that allows an organisation to record calls for legislative purposes, such as a lawyer, or for customer service purposes such as support. Recordings are stored securely online, and you have the ability to download recordings for playback. Companies can opt-in for this service and it’s free to use. Recordings are stored online and are fully encrypted so only you can listen to, or download them. Storage costs R1 for every 1000 minutes of stored recordings.

Other features include call forwarding and scheduling. The latter allows you to set office hours for your organisation which will divert calls to an after-hours messaging service. You also have the option to enable routing to an employee who is on call after hours.

BuzzBox also has a reseller program for companies wanting to offer this as a switchboard solution to their existing customers.

The costs for this service is R89 p/m for the first phone number which includes your first extension for free. Thereafter you’ll pay R89p/m per extension. Calls between extensions are free but you pay per second for all outgoing phone calls. More info on pricing can be found here: https://buzzboxcloud.co.za/pricing/

BuzzBox is offering a Launch promotion where they are offering the first line and extension free for 12 months. Only pay for calls. Use promo code “feoifyaa” during sign-up to apply your discount.

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