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Don’t root that phone!

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Although rooting or jailbreaking smartphones gives a user more control, ALEX MANEA, Director of BlackBerry Security warns that doing so can also leave the device open to additional security and privacy issues.

One of the most controversial topics when it comes to mobile devices is the idea of rooting and jailbreaking. Although rooting and jailbreaking are technically different processes on different platforms, the end-goal is the same: to gain higher-level privileges and access to sensitive functionality that isn’t normally available (for simplicity, we’ll use the word “rooting” to refer to both). Let’s look at the pros and cons of rooting and examine how and why we need to protect against it.

Rooting is a technical process driven by practical and philosophical desires. The practical aspect is that rooting lets you install apps that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to use, either because the platform is locked to a single app store (iOS) or because the app requires access to sensitive internal functionality (Android and iOS). Philosophically, some technically-minded people (including most white hat hackers) want the ability to access everything on their smartphones, which is why many Android smartphones come with unlocked bootloaders. But rooting is also complex for most people and can cause issues with system stability, software updates, warranties, and most of all security.

The Root of the Problem

The main advantage of rooting is also its biggest drawback: the fact that it unlocks access to sensitive areas of the device. Rooting is a huge risk to the privacy and security of the platform; a rooted device makes you more susceptible to malware and many enterprises refuse to allow rooted devices on their networks. Some types of malware specifically exploit jailbroken phones, while others attempt to directly root the phone themselves. These apps are extremely dangerous because they can hide from anti-virus programs and become nearly impossible to remove.

Preventing and detecting rooting is one of the most difficult games of cat-and-mouse in all of security. Hackers are constantly looking for new vulnerabilities and many devices are rooted before they’re even released. A well-designed piece of malware with super user permissions

can easily hide itself from a simple root-detection app that’s just looking for flags typically associated with rooting. The most effective way to detect rooting is to use a hardware root of trust to integrate the solution across the hardware, OS and app layers.

How to Protect Yourself and Your Business

The simplest way to protect yourself is to not root your device, but many devices can also rooted without your knowledge, either by malware installed on the device or in some cases even remotely. Whether you’re an individual consumer or an IT administrator tasked with protecting thousands of devices, there are some simple steps you can take to protect yourself and your business:

·         When possible, use devices with built-in rooting protections; look for features like hardware root of trust and integrity detection. If all else fails, Google “how to root/jailbreak <insert device name>”. If you find lots of websites with simple instructions on how to root the latest OS, that’s usually not a good sign.

·         Download apps from trusted sources. Native app stores like Google Play and BlackBerry World have built-in app vetting systems that protect against malicious apps. Third-party app stores are hit-or-miss, with many lacking the resources to implement robust malware detection.

·         Be careful with free apps that request unnecessary sets of permissions. If a flashlight app needs access to your system settings, it’s probably be doing more than enabling the flash on your camera.

·         As an IT administrator, deploy Enterprise Mobility Management solutions that detect and protect against rooted devices. Make sure you’re able to remotely track those devices and quarantine them from your enterprise network.

Mobile Security Tips

Here are some other simple ways to keep your information safe and make sure you don’t become a victim of cybercrime:

·         Use a device password and that’s hard to guess. We often think of “strong” passwords as being long and having lots of strange numbers and symbols, but some smartphones automatically wipe after 10 incorrect attempts, so even a short simple password like “exoq” is often enough. Here’s a simple rule of thumb: if your partner or closest friend can’t guess it in 10 tries, you’re probably pretty safe.

·         If you use your smartphone for work, use “containers” or other partitioning technologies to separate work and personal content. This keeps your personal data private and lets you download apps and play games. Meanwhile, your company knows that the apps that you download can’t access their corporate data or network, which protects them as well.

·         When you’re on an insecure network (e.g. public Wi-Fi at Starbucks), make sure the data that you send and receive is encrypted. You can do this by looking for the lock icon on your browser or “https://” at the start of the URL and by using secure email services like Gmail, Yahoo and Outlook.com.

·         Be careful when you let someone else use your phone. An experienced hacker can install spyware in a matter of seconds and start tracking all of your emails, texts and even phone calls. Try to keep an eye on the screen and never let the phone out of your sight.

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Android Go puts reliable smartphones in budget pockets

Nokia, Vodacom and Huawei have all launched entry-level smartphones running the Android Go edition, and all deliver a smooth experience, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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Three new and notable Android Go smartphones have recently hit the market, namely the Nokia 1, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 and the Huawei Y3 (2018). These phones run one of the most basic versions of Android while still delivering a fairly smooth user experience.

Historically, consumers purchasing smartphones in the budget bracket would have a hit-and-miss experience with processing speed, smoothness of user interface, and app stability. The Google-supported Android Go edition operating system optimises the user experience by stripping out non-important visual effects to speed up the phone. Thish allows for more memory to be used by apps. 

Google also ensures that all smartphones running Android Go will receive feature and security updates as they are released by Google. This is a major selling point for these smartphones, as users of this smartphone will always be running the latest software, with virtually no manufacturer bloatware.

Vodafone Smart Kicka 4

At the lowest entry-level, the Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performs well as a communicator for emails and WhatsApp messages. The 4” screen represents a step up for entry-level Android phones, which were previously standardised at 3.5”.

The display is bright and very responsive, while the limited screen real estate leaves the navigation keys off the screen as touch buttons. It uses 3G connectivity, which might seem like an outdated technology, but is good enough to stream SD videos and music. Vodacom has also thrown in some data gifts if the smartphone is activated before the end of September 2018. 

Its camera functionalities might be a slight let down for the aspirant Instagrammer, with a 2MP rear flash camera and a 0.3MP selfie snapper. Speed wise, the keyboard pops up quickly, which is a huge improvement from the Smart Kicka 3. However, this phone will not play well with graphics-intensive games. 

Nokia 1

Next up is the Nokia 1, which adds a much better 5MP camera, improved battery life and a bigger 4.5” screen. It supports LTE, which allows this smartphone to download and upload at the speed of flagships. It also sports the Nokia brand name, which many consumers trust.

Although the front camera is 2MP, the quality is extremely grainy, even with good lighting. This disqualifies this smartphone for the social media selfie snapper, but the 5MP rear camera will work for the landscape and portrait photographer. 

The screen also redeems this smartphone, providing a display which represents colours truly and has great viewing angles. Xpress-on back covers allows the use of interchangeable, multi-coloured back covers, which has proven to be a successful sales point for mid-range smartphones in the past. 

Huawei Y3 (2018)

The most capable of the Android Go edition competitors, the Huawei Y3 (2018) packs an even bigger screen at 5”, as well as an improved 8MP rear camera and HD video recording. The screen is the brightest and most vibrant of the three smartphones, but seems to be calibrated to show colours a little more saturated than they actually are. 

Nevertheless, the camera outperforms the other smartphones with good colour replication and great selfie capabilities via the 2MP front camera – far superior to the Nokia 1 despite the same spec. LTE also comes standard with this smartphone and Vodacom throws in 4G/LTE data goodies until the end of September 2018. The battery, however, is not removable and may only be replaced by a warranty technician.

Comparing the 3

All three smartphones have removable back covers, which provide access to the battery, SIM card and SD card slots. The smartphones have Micro USB ports on the bottom with headphone jacks on the top. The built-in speakers all performed well, with the Y3 (2018) housing an exceptionally loud built-in speaker. 

Although all at different price points, all three phones remain similar in performance and speed. The differentiators are apparent in the components, like camera quality and screen quality. It would be fair to rank the quality of the camera and battery life by respective market prices. The Vodafone Smart Kicka 4 performed well, for its R399 retail price. The Nokia 1, on the other hand, lags quite a bit in features when compared to the Huawei Y3 (2018), bwith oth retailing at R999.

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SA gets digital archive

As the world entered the centenary of Nelson Mandela’s birth on Mandela Day, 18 July 2018, South Africa celebrated the launch of a digital living archive. 

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The southafrica.co.za  site carries content about the country’s collective heritage in South Africa’s eleven official languages.

Designed as a nation building,  educational and brand promotion web based tool, the free-to-view platform features award-winning photographic and written content by leading South African photographers, authors, academics and photojournalists.

The emphasis is on quality, credible, factual content that celebrates a collective heritage in terms of the following: Cultural Heritage; Natural Heritage; Education; History; Agriculture; Industry; Mining; and Travel.

At the same time as reflecting on the nation’s history, southafrica.co.za celebrates South Africa’s natural, cultural and economic assets so that the youth can learn about their nation in their home language.

Southafrica.co.za Founder and CEO Hans Gerrizen conceptualised southafrica.co.za as a means for youth and communities from outlying areas to benefit from the digital age in terms of the web tool’s empowering educational component.

“We can only stand to deepen our collective experience of democracy and become a more forward planning nation if we know facts about our nation’s past and present in everyone’s home language,” he says.

Southafrica.co.za, with sister company Siyabona Africa, is the organiser and sponsor of the Mandela: 100 Moments photographic exhibition that runs until 30 September at Cape Town’s V&A Waterfront-based Nelson Mandela Gateway to Robben Island.  The 3-month exhibition, which runs daily from 08h00 until 15h00, is showcasing one hundred iconic Nelson Mandela images taken by veteran South African photojournalist and self-taught lensman Peter Magubane.

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