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Quadrooter makes 900m Android devices vulnerable

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Mobile researchers from Check Point Software Technologies have announced four new vulnerabilities affecting over 900 million Android smartphones and tablets.

In his presentation at Def Con 24, Check Point lead mobile security researcher Adam Donenfeld revealed four major vulnerabilities affecting Android devices built using the Qualcomm chipsets. Qualcomm is the world’s leading designer of LTE chipsets, with a 65% share of the LTE modem baseband market in the Android ecosystem.

Check Point calls the set of vulnerabilities QuadRooter. If exploited, the vulnerabilities can give attackers complete control of devices and unrestricted access to sensitive personal and enterprise data on them. Access could also provide an attacker with capabilities such as keylogging, GPS tracking, and recording video and audio.

The vulnerabilities are found in the software drivers Qualcomm ships with its chipsets.  An attacker can exploit these vulnerabilities using a malicious app.  This app would require no special permissions to take advantage of the vulnerabilities, which means it would not make users suspicious.  The estimated 900 million affected devices include these models:

  • Samsung Galaxy S7 & S7 Edge
  • Sony Xperia Z Ultra
  • Google Nexus 5X, 6 & 6P
  • HTC One M9 & HTC 10
  • LG G4, G5 & V10
  • Motorola Moto X
  • BlackBerry Priv

Since the vulnerable software drivers are pre-installed on devices at the point of manufacture, they can only be fixed by installing a patch from the device’s distributor or carrier.  Distributors and carriers issuing patches can only do so after receiving fixed driver packs from Qualcomm.

Check Point has released a free QuadRooter scanner app, available from Google Play, that enables Android users to find out if their device is vulnerable, and prompt them to download patches for the problem.  The link will be also available from http://blog.checkpoint.com/

Michael Shaulov, head of mobility product management for Check Point said:  “Vulnerabilities like QuadRooter bring into focus the unique challenge of securing Android devices, and the data they hold.  The supply chain is complex, which means every patch must be added to and tested on Android builds for each unique device model affected by the flaws.  This process can take months, leaving devices vulnerable in the interim, and users are often not made aware of the risks to their data. The Android security update process is broken and needs to be fixed.”

Check Point recommends the following best practices to help keep Android devices safe from attacks that try to exploit any vulnerabilities:

·       Download and install the latest Android updates as soon as they become available.

·       Understand the risks of rooting devices – either intentionally or from an attack

·       Avoid side-loading Android apps (.APK files) or downloading apps from third-party sources. Instead, download apps only from Google Play.

·       Read permission requests carefully when installing any apps. Be wary of apps that ask for permissions that seem unusual or unnecessary, or use large amounts of data or battery life.

·       Use known, trusted Wi-Fi networks or while traveling use only those that you can verify are provided by a trustworthy source.

·       End users and enterprises should consider using mobile security solutions designed to detect suspicious behaviour on a device, including malware that could be obfuscated within installed apps.

Check Point researchers provided Qualcomm with information about the vulnerabilities in April 2016. The team then followed the industry-standard disclosure policy (CERT/CC policy) of allowing 90 days for Qualcomm to produce patches before disclosing the vulnerabilities.   Qualcomm reviewed these vulnerabilities, classified each as high risk, and has since released patches to original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

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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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