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Why cyber criminals love your smartphone

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Smartphones have become a central part of our lives. But, while they aim to heighten convenience, there is a real feeling that smartphones are becoming a bigger target for cybercriminals, says CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, ESET South Africa CEO.

So, why are criminals eager to get into our devices?

A smartphone knows everything about us

The amount of information stored on a smartphone has skyrocketed in recent years.  The connectivity of apps means we supply nearly every piece of information about ourselves, whether its bank account details or our preferred taste in pizza.

For a cybercriminal potentially wanting to commit identity theft, a smartphone is a goldmine.

It’s a way into companies and other organisations

The use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has become one of the most prominent trends for companies around the globe. Cybercriminals are viewing these devices as an ideal gateway into stealing valuable corporate information.

Security can be lax

The rise of BYOD has also caused plenty of headaches for a number of companies in various industries, mainly due to difficulties in rolling out a unified approach to security.

In a recent Tech Pro Research survey of CIOs, tech executives and IT workers, 45% of respondents said mobile devices posed the greatest risk to a company’s infrastructure, with the fragmented nature of some mobile platforms cited as a primary reason.

Autofill has become our best friend

One of the reasons our phones are carrying more personal information than ever before is primarily down to our desire for convenience.

With our devices now handling a myriad of services and subsequent apps, we find ourselves with a larger number login details than ever before.

It’s a route into your wallet

Our phones can be used to transfer money, pay our bills, and are even being used as a method of payment.

Apps such as SnapScan and FlickPay are pushing mobile payments into the  mainstream, and some experts expect it to be a trend that will continue over the next few years.

Of course, the only drawback is that they are likely to catch the attention of cybercriminals.

Phones know where you are and where you are work

In many circumstances, the reason behind tracking your device are entirely innocent, such as helping you get the most out of your data and your apps.

For example, if you’re out and about, you can check out restaurant or business recommendations with just a couple of swipes.

However, hacking a device’s GPS capabilities is not seen as a difficult task, with many gamers using it to cheat at the popular augmented reality game Pokémon Go in the hands of the criminals, a compromised GPS could be an unnerving prospect.

Bluetooth

For several years now, Bluetooth has been a regular feature on smartphones and other mobile devices. Yet, like GPS, it is still seen as a potential entry point for cybercriminals.

The effects of such an attack can result in Bluesnarfing – where a phone’s private information is compromised, or Bluebugging, which allows a criminal to take complete control of your phone.

But while there is a risk, these methods are becoming increasingly harder for hackers to exploit.

Some scams are specific to mobile

There are several well-known ways in which cybercriminals can use your smartphones to make quick cash.

In countries like China, for example, malware can be used to access devices and force them to call premium numbers that charge large amounts.

These scams are not only potentially lucrative, but can also spread across large numbers of devices.

They’re a great way of sending spam

Everyone hates spam. Well, apart from cybercriminals, anyway.

There are several reasons why a criminal would want to send spam, but many of them see smartphones as the ideal platform for sending these communications.

This is mainly because it is much harder for service providers to track down and block offenders.

Users are ignorant about the dangers

Many of the most seasoned tech users are now well acquainted with best practices when it comes to using laptops or desktops, but smartphones often slip down the list of priorities.

Which, in some ways is surprising, given that smartphones have increasingly been targeted since as early as 2005.

However, as the threat is more visible than ever, we’re slowly beginning to understand that security matters. Let’s treat them with the importance they deserve.

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When will we stop calling them phones?

If you don’t remember when phones were only used to talk to people, you may wonder why we still use this term for handsets, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK, on the eve of the 10th birthday of the app.

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Do you remember when handsets were called phones because, well, we used them to phone people?

It took 120 years from the invention of the telephone to the use of phones to send text.

Between Alexander Graham Bell coining the term “telephone” in 1876 and Finland’s two main mobile operators allowing SMS messages between consumers in 1995, only science fiction writers and movie-makers imagined instant communication evolving much beyond voice. Even when BlackBerry shook the business world with email on a phone at the end of the last century, most consumers were adamant they would stick to voice.

It’s hard to imagine today that the smartphone as we know it has been with us for less than 10 years. Apple introduced the iPhone, the world’s first mass-market touchscreen phone, in June 2007, but it is arguable that it was the advent of the app store in July the following year that changed our relationship with phones forever.

That was the moment when the revolution in our hands truly began, when it became possible for a “phone” to carry any service that had previously existed on the World Wide Web.

Today, most activity carried out by most people on their mobile devices would probably follow the order of social media in first place – Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn all jostling for attention – and  instant messaging in close second, thanks to WhatsApp, Messenger, SnapChat and the like. Phone calls – using voice that is – probably don’t even take third place, but play fourth or fifth fiddle to mapping and navigation, driven by Google Maps and Waze, and transport, thanks to Uber, Taxify, and other support services in South Africa like MyCiti,  Admyt and Kaching.

Despite the high cost of data, free public Wi-Fi is also seeing an explosion in use of streaming video – whether Youtube, Netflix, Showmax, or GETblack – and streaming music, particularly with the arrival of Spotify to compete with Simfy Africa.

Who has time for phone calls?

The changing of the phone guard in South Africa was officially signaled last week with the announcement of Vodacom’s annual results. Voice revenue for the 2018 financial year ending 31 March had fallen by 4.6%, to make up 40.6% of Vodacom’s revenue. Total revenue had grown by 8.1%, which meant voice seriously underperformed the group, and had fallen by 4% as a share of revenue, from 2017’s 44.6%.

The reason? Data had not only outperformed the group, increasing revenue by 12.8%, but it had also risen from 39.7% to 42.8% of group revenue,

This means that data has not only outperformed voice for the first time – as had been predicted by World Wide Worx a year ago – but it has also become Vodacom’s biggest contributor to revenue.

That scenario is being played out across all mobile network operators. In the same way, instant messaging began destroying SMS revenues as far back as five years ago – to the extent that SMS barely gets a mention in annual reports.

Data overtaking voice revenues signals the demise of voice as the main service and key selling point of mobile network operators. It also points to mobile phones – let’s call them handsets – shifting their primary focus. Voice quality will remain important, but now more a subset of audio quality rather than of connectivity. Sound quality will become a major differentiator as these devices become primary platforms for movies and music.

Contact management, privacy and security will become critical features as the handset becomes the storage device for one’s entire personal life.

Integration with accessories like smartwatches and activity monitors, earphones and earbuds, virtual home assistants and virtual car assistants, will become central to the functionality of these devices. Why? Because the handsets will control everything else? Hardly.

More likely, these gadgets will become an extension of who we are, what we do and where we are. As a result, they must be context aware, and also context compatible. This means they must hand over appropriate functions to appropriate devices at the appropriate time. 

I need to communicate only using my earpiece? The handset must make it so. I have to use gesture control, and therefore some kind of sensor placed on my glasses, collar or wrist? The handset must instantly surrender its centrality.

There are numerous other scenarios and technology examples, many out of the pages of science fiction, that point to the changing role of the “phone”. The one thing that’s obvious is that it will be silly to call it a phone for much longer.

  • Arthur Goldstuck is founder of World Wide Worx and editor-in-chief of Gadget.co.za. Follow him on Twitter on @art2gee and on YouTube
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MTN 5G test gets 520Mbps

MTN and Huawei have launched Africa’s first 5G field trial with an end-to-end Huawei 5G solution.

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The field trial demonstrated a 5G Fixed-Wireless Access (FWA) use case with Huawei’s 5G 28GHz mmWave Customer Premises Equipment (CPE) in a real-world environment in Hatfield Pretoria, South Africa. Speeds of 520Mbps downlink and 77Mbps uplink were attained throughout respectively.

“These 5G trials provide us with an opportunity to future proof our network and prepare it for the evolution of these new generation networks. We have gleaned invaluable insights about the modifications that we need to do on our core, radio and transmission network from these pilots. It is important to note that the transition to 5G is not just a flick of a switch, but it’s a roadmap that requires technical modifications and network architecture changes to ensure that we meet the standards that this technology requires. We are pleased that we are laying the groundwork that will lead to the full realisation of the boundless opportunities that are inherent in the digital world.” says Babak Fouladi, Group Chief Technology & Information Systems Officer, at MTN Group.

Giovanni Chiarelli, Chief Technology and Information Officer for MTN SA said: “Next generation services such as virtual and augmented reality, ultra-high definition video streaming, and cloud gaming require massive capacity and higher user data rates. The use of millimeter-wave spectrum bands is one of the key 5G enabling technologies to deliver the required capacity and massive data rates required for 5G’s Enhanced Mobile Broadband use cases. MTN and Huawei’s joint field trial of the first 5G mmWave Fixed-Wireless Access solution in Africa will also pave the way for a fixed-wireless access solution that is capable of replacing conventional fixed access technologies, such as fibre.”

“Huawei is continuing to invest heavily in innovative 5G technologies”, said Edward Deng, President of Wireless Network Product Line of Huawei. “5G mmWave technology can achieve unprecedented fiber-like speed for mobile broadband access. This trial has shown the capabilities of 5G technology to deliver exceptional user experience for Enhanced Mobile Broadband applications. With customer-centric innovation in mind, Huawei will continue to partner with MTN to deliver best-in-class advanced wireless solutions.”

“We are excited about the potential the technology will bring as well as the potential advancements we will see in the fields of medicine, entertainment and education. MTN has been investing heavily to further improve our network, with the recent “Best in Test” and MyBroadband best network recognition affirming this. With our focus on providing the South Africans with the best customer experience, speedy allocation of spectrum can help bring more of these technologies to our customers,” says Giovanni.

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