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Apps can exploit your data

Watch out for the permissions you grant your mobile applications to use because some of them can be used to exploit your personal information, says SIMON CAMPBELL-YOUNG, MD of Credence Security

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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.”

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AppDate: Shedding light in our times of darkness

SEAN BACHER’S app roundup highlights two load-shedding apps, along with South AfriCAM, NBA 2K Mobile, Virgin Mobile’s Spot 3.0 and SwiftKey.

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Load Shedding Notifier

With all the uncertainty about when South Africans will next be plunged into darkness by Eskom, the Load Shedding Notifier tries its best to keep up with Eskom’s schedule. The app is very simple to use. Download it, type an area in and click the save button. The app automatically tells you what load shedding stage Eskom is on, the times you can expect to start lighting candles and for how long to burn them.

Multiple areas can be added and one can switch between the different stages to see how each one will affect a certain area.

A grid status is also displayed, showing how strained the country’s electrical network is.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

EskomSePush Load Shedding App

EskomSePush does much the same as the Load Shedding Notifier, but allows multiple cities to be tracked. However, they may just want to rethink the name of the app if they want wider respectability.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

South AfriCAM

South AfriCAM enables users to add branded stickers and frames from popular lifestyle magazine titles to their posts, including Huisgenoot, YOU, Drum, Move!, TRUE LOVE, Women’s Health and Men’s Health. 

In the process, they can earn JETPoints for their social influence: through the app’s built-in JET8 social currency, users are rewarded for their engagement. For every in-app like, comment, and share, users earn JETPoints, which can be used to redeem products online or over the counter across more than 2 500 retail stores in South Africa. Users are additionally awarded JETPoints for cross-posting onto external social media networks.

Platform: Android and iOS

Expect to pay: A free download

Stockists: Visit the store linked to your device

Click here to read about console quality graphics on a mobile phone, Virgin Money payments made easier, and an app that redesigns the keyboard.

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Drones to drive
Western Cape agritech

Aerobotics is set to change how farmers treat their crops by using drones and machine learning, writes BRYAN TURNER.

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The Western Cape is poised to be a hotbed of innovation in the agritech sector, with drone piloting set to playing a major role in in the tech start-up scene.

This is the view of Tim Willis, chief operating officer of pioneering drone company Aerobotics, a Cape Town drone company recognised as a world leader in agritech.

“Drone piloting is a key skill that feeds into the value chain of the budding 4th Industrial Revolution,” said Willis. “Cape Town and the Western Cape is uniquely positioned to be the melting pot for innovation in the agritech sector, as a leading agricultural exporter and a hub for creative tech start-ups.”

He was speaking at AeroCon, a drone expo organised by Aerobotics and held in Johannesburg this week aimed at providing opportunities for drone pilots to apply their skills in South Africa, and to show how drones are being used to collect data on crops. 

The event was supported by the South African Civil Aviation Authority (SACAA), Wesgro, PROMMAC, MicaSense, and Rectron, among other

“We’re starting to sign up farmers across the country,” said Willis. “It’s exciting because farmers are starting to use drone technology on their farms. When a farmer wants a drone flown, they want it flown [now] so it’s important for us to capture that data as quickly as possible to show that drones are fast and effective.”

According to aerobotics, drone technology can help farmers reduce pesticide use on their crops by up to 30%. The result is environmentally friendly farming, reducing stressed crops and a healthier harvest. 

“We use aerial imagery from drones to recreate a 3D model of every single tree on a farmer’s orchard,” said Willis. “We’ve done this for millions of trees and it starts to give the farmers metrics of what they’re doing. We provide them with the health of the trees, the height, the volume, the canopy area, which enable the farms to make decisions on what to do next.”

Click here to read more about AeroCon and what it offers to those wanting to get into the drone industry.

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