Every time an application is installed on a device, the user is asked to allow that app certain permissions. These range from being able to view your contacts, to using your camera and microphone, tracking your location, and many, many more. While some of these permissions are necessary in order for the application to function, others are not necessary in the slightest, and are only there to gather and exploit the user’s sensitive information.
Simon Campbell-Young, MD of Credence Security, says: “Irrespective of the platform, applications offer great insight into the user, and this data is of great interest to marketers and businesses, but also cyber criminals.”
However, on both Android and OS, users are required to give permission to any access, which is why he says carefully reading the list of permissions the apps request is crucial. “Ask yourself if there is a legitimate reason an application might need camera access, for example, or why it would need to track your location. If it isn’t necessary, be suspicious. In addition, some apps give the user the option of signing in through a social media platform such as Google, Twitter or Facebook. Here too, check the fine print to make sure you fully understand what information you are handing over.”
Certain apps are fairly cunning with their permissions, asking for those that although do not seem strictly necessary, could have a legitimate need. “If in doubt, ask the developers. Certain apps will also have an explanation of permissions requested in the developer notes, others don’t. A good way to suss out the app and see if there have been major issues or privacy violations is to check out the reviews written by users. If too many are bad, then err on the side of caution and don’t install the app.”
He says it’s also wise to review your application permissions on a regular basis. “This is done through the application settings, and is fairly straight forward. Clear out any unused applications too, but remember that removing an application from your device isn’t always enough. If you have opted to connect via a social media service, you need to recheck your permissions even after you have uninstalled the app in question.”
Then there’s the question of people finding ways to bypass certain application functionalities. “Take Snapchat for example. Snapchat is one of the most popular and highly rated apps available on both iOS and Android platforms, and has captured the information of today’s youth, with its combination of timed photos and videos, and the access it gives to famous and interesting people.”
Campbell-Young says one of the reasons it has become so popular is because messages sent between users self-destruct after a short time, making it the ideal platform to send salacious selfies. “However, there are ways around this – it is possible to take a screenshot of the message. When this happens the sender is notified, but not much else. Moreover, there are several apps available that have been designed to evade this alert, which is giving rise to a slew of security and privacy issues.”
So even the most diligent of users can still be in danger, he says. “Also, applications have bugs and issues from time to time. No one is accusing them of malice here, but technological issues can see information being exposed or handled in an insecure manner. We do see permission issues boil down to honest mistakes too.”
But not always. “There have been several cases where apps have been caught selling users’ location data, even after the user has specifically opted out of sharing their location with the app. There are many other cases of malicious apps slipping through the security cracks on legitimate play stores and marketplaces. Ultimately it is up to the user to be as vigilant as possible. Check and check those permissions again, and review them regularly.”
Time is running out for Microsoft SQL Server 2008
Companies are urged to update from the dated database management software as end-of-support looms, writes BRYAN TURNER.
The 11-year-old Microsoft SQL Server 2008 database management software is reaching the end of its support on 9 July. The applications that use databases running on this software will be at risk of security and stability issues.
On self-managed databases, upgrading to the latest database version comes with a lot of risks. Many IT departments within companies go by the motto: “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it”.
Microsoft made it very clear that it would not be updating SQL Server 2005 after its extended support date and even left it vulnerable to Spectre and Meltdown by not releasing patches for the dated version.
Updating SQL Server versions may seem daunting, but the benefits far outweigh the effort it takes for a migration. In the last major version update, SQL Server 2016 introduced simpler backup functionality, database stretching, and always-encrypted communications with the database, to name just three features.
While backing up the database may be the last thing on the typical database administrator’s mind, it’s become increasingly important to do so. In SQL Server 2008, it’s clunky and causes headaches for many admins. However, in SQL Server 2016, one can easily set up an automated backup to Azure storage and let it run on smart backup intervals. Backing up offsite also reduces the need for disaster recovery for onsite damage.
Database stretching allows admins to push less frequently accessed data to an Azure database, automatically decided by SQL Server 2016. This reduces the admin of manually looking through what must be kept and what must be shipped off or deleted. It also reduces the size of the database, which also increases the performance of the applications that access it. The best part of this functionality is it automatically retrieves the less accessed records from Azure when users request it, without the need for manual intervention.
Always-encrypted communications are becoming more and more relevant to many companies, especially those operating in European regions after the introduction of GDPR. Encryption keys were previously managed by the admin, but now encryption is always handled by the client. Furthermore, the keys to encrypt and decrypt data are stored outside of SQL Server altogether. This means data stored in the database is always encrypted, and no longer for the eyes of a curious database manager.
The built-in reporting tools have also vastly improved with the addition of new reporting metrics and a modern look. It includes support for Excel reports for keeping documentation and Power BI for automated, drag-and-drop personalised reporting. Best of all, it removes the dreaded Active X controls, which made the reporting in a webpage feel very clumsy and bloated in previous versions.
A lot has changed in the past ten years in the world of SQL Server database management, and it’s not worth running into problems before Microsoft ends support for SQL Server 2008.
Local apps to feature in Huawei’s App Gallery
Huawei’s mobile app store, the HUAWEI AppGallery, will soon feature a multitude of apps and designs by local developers. The company says this is part of its drive to promote South African digital talent and include more useful apps for Huawei smartphone users. HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes are pre-installed on all the latest Huawei and Honor devices.
“South African consumers are increasingly wanting more apps that are relevant to their unique circumstances, addressing issues they experience regularly – such as load shedding or safety concerns – but also apps that celebrate South Africa’s multitude of cultures and this vibrant country,” says Lu Geng, director of Huawei Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Region.
Akhram Mohamed, chief technology officer of Huawei Consumer Business Group South Africa, says: “Huawei is committed to catering to the needs of South African consumers, but we also know that we do not have all the answers. For this reason, we aim to work closely with South African developers so that we can give our users everything that they need and want from their devices. At the same time, we also hope to create an open ecosystem for local developers by offering a simple and secure environment for them to upload content.”
Huawei Mobile Services was launched in South Africa in June last year. Since then, both the HUAWEI AppGallery and HUAWEI Themes – which features tens of thousands of themes, fonts and wallpapers that personalise user’s handset – have become increasingly popular with the local market. Even though it is a relatively new division of Huawei, there has been a great increase in growth; at the end of 2018 Huawei Mobile Services had 500 million users globally, representing a 117% increase on the previous year.
Explaining what differentiates the HUAWEI AppGallery from other app stores, Mosa Matshediso Hlobelo, business developer for Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa says: “We use the name ‘HUAWEI AppGallery’ because we have a dedicated team that curates all the apps in terms of relevance and ease of use and to ensure that there are no technical issues. Importantly, all apps are also security-checked for malware and privacy leaks before being uploaded on to the HUAWEI AppGallery.”
Huawei recently held a Developers’ Day where Huawei executives met with South African developers to discuss Huawei’s offering. 48 developers registered their apps on the day, and Huawei is currently in discussions with them with the eventual aim of featuring the best apps and designs on HUAWEI AppGallery or HUAWEI Themes. The Consumer Cloud Service Southern Africa Team at Huawei plans on making Developers’ Day a quarterly event and establishing a local providers’ hub, where developers can regularly meet with Huawei for training on updates to programmes and offerings.
“We have a very hands-on approach with our developers, and hope to expand that community so we can become an additional distribution channel for more developers and expose them to both a local and a global audience,” says Geng. “For example, we regularly feature apps and designs from local developers on our Huawei social media pages, and do competitions and promotions. We want to do everything we can to make our Huawei users aware of these local apps and upload them. This will encourage the growth of the developer community in South Africa by giving developers more opportunities to generate revenue from in-app purchases.”
* Developers who would like their apps featured on the HUAWEI App Gallery, or designs featured on HUAWEI Themes, should visit https://developer.huawei.com or email Huawei Mobile Services on firstname.lastname@example.org.