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Fixing your phone: here is the hidden risk

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A mobile phone is a very private device and when we take it in for repair we have no idea what happens to our personal information. ASHARAF ROGERS, Technical Manager at weFix, gives some tips to make sure our private data doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

Nearly one in five South Africans don’t have a password on their smartphone. With almost 9 million South Africans reportedly victims of cyber crime in the last year, according to a 2016 study by internet security company Norton, the need for heightened security measures for tech devices becomes abundantly clear.

As the consumer’s desire for convenience continues to grow, devices such as mobile phones become increasingly indispensable. Most people can barely recall a time when the functioning of a mobile phone was limited to making and receiving calls and text messages. Today, mobile phones are our bank teller, our PA, our work and personal email accounts and our family photo album. As a result, they are also our entire life laid open to unscrupulous individuals looking to steal our identity or commit fraud.

One of the most common ways that people render themselves vulnerable to such crime is when taking their mobile device in for repair. While you might think that the phone’s lock screen pin is secure enough to be in the repair shop for a few days, there are in fact data recovery applications that can be used to extract your phone data even when the screen is locked.

Asharaf Rogers, Technical Manager at weFix explains, “Mobile phones, as with most tech devices nowadays, are incredibly private in terms of the volume of personal information they contain. In fact what most people fail to remember is that regardless of how new their mobile phone is, the information stored in their smartphone is way more valuable than the actual device.”

Rogers warns that customers need to be very careful about who they hand their phone to for repair. Many new repair kiosks are popping up in South Africa and customers need to ensure that the technician is both adequately qualified to do necessary repairs and also trustworthy in terms of the data they can access on the device. Rogers suggests these four key steps to consider before handing a phone over:

·       Are you using a reputable technician? An expert will be certified, will fully understand ESD safety requirements and know how to handle dangerous situations such as a swollen or exploding battery. On the other hand, use someone without the requisite skills and you run the risk of a completely different problem appearing on the device, as well as misaligned screens or frames, or a device that was working before (think cracked screen but still functioning) that is now completely unusable.

·       Even though a surprising 30% of people have never backed up (according to Cloudwards), ensure you back up your device to iCloud, Google Sync or to a harddrive. This not only minimizes the risk of complete data loss as a result of an unsuccessful repair or intermittent problem on the device, but it means your private and prized data – including family photos – can be removed from the device for the duration of the repair and then uploaded once you have your device back.

·       Research conducted by Protect Your Bubble shows that 57% of men are responsible for dropping their smartphones down a toilet! A device going in for a camera or battery repair could get substantially worse if information, such as liquid damage, is withheld. So ensure you give accurate and true details to the technician about what’s happened to the device to avoid the exact faults or worse, returning after the repair.

·       Be prepared to surrender your passcode. If needed, you might have to turn off security features to ensure comprehensive diagnosis or repair of your device. This allows a technician to test all functions before and after repair. For example, disabling ‘find your phone’ assists in accurate testing so be comfortable with the technician with whom you’re leaving it.

67% of South Africans surveyed by Norton said they felt it was easier to control personal information before smartphones and the internet. Now more than ever, trust is everything when it comes to getting devices repaired so take the necessary precautions before giving your phone to anyone and avoid becoming a victim of crime.

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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