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Cyber crooks ramp up for holidays as consumers relax

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As consumers slow down for the year-end break, cybercriminals are entering their biggest time of the year yet, writes DOROS HADJIZENONOS.

As consumers wind down for a much-needed year-end break, cybercriminals are entering their busiest time of year. A time when consumers are quick to snap up festive season savings and when they use their devices more for entertainment and less for work.

While most people will be reading books or letting their children play games on their devices, some will still access their work emails and documents at the beach. It is therefore crucial that businesses adopt robust, user-friendly security technology that protects users when they’re not in the office.

Ideally, all business-sensitive information should be stored in a capsule on devices that is separate from the user’s personal information. The password-protected capsule should only be accessible by authorised users and should encrypt all information stored within it so that the data remains secure if the device is lost or stolen.

Ignorance is not bliss

Information security cannot only be the responsibility of the IT department, especially when users access private and business information on one device. Not only should users take steps to protect their devices but they should also be aware of the tactics used by cybercriminals to trick people into downloading malicious apps or visiting harmful websites. They should also use common sense when granting apps permission to access information on their devices – a photo editing app does not need access to a phone’s contacts list, for example.

Festive season cybercrime tactics often involve “discounts” when shopping online or through a retailer’s app. What consumers are often unaware of is that, even though the app or URL look legitimate, they are not have been designed with the sole purpose of stealing information.

The fact that users can often bypass app stores and download apps directly from publishers’ websites has made it easier for cybercriminals to trick people. By simply sending an email that appears to come from a trusted retailer, prompting the user to download its app to receive a R200 discount voucher, hackers take advantage of unsuspecting shoppers looking to save money on their festive expenses, simply by directing them to a link that downloads a fake app.

All it takes is one click and the app will have access to a user’s camera, microphone, GPS location, contacts, calendar and anything else the user allows it to, because let’s face it, no one reads the list of permissions when downloading apps; we blindly accept the terms and conditions without a second thought. And hackers know this.

Apps behaving badly

Hackers may create an app that looks legitimate but has malware installed in it.

Consider a traveller who has arrived in a new city and wants to download a local city guide application. These are readily advertised in tourist locations with a QR code. A hacker could stick his own QR code over the poster advertising the application and the unsuspecting tourist would then be directed to the hacker’s application that looks exactly the same as the original city guide application.

Once a user has downloaded what he thinks is an app to help him find interesting city information, he will be oblivious to the fact that a hacker is monitoring his every move. And because he gave the app permission to access many parts of his phone (including photos, camera, microphone, GPS location, etc), it is possible for the hacker to view this information as well as send screen captures of whatever is displayed on the screen, which can put company information at risk even though a secure container may be used to store this information.

Multi-layered security

Just as we protect our houses with security bars, electric fencing, alarm systems, beams and guard dogs, companies also need a multi-layered security approach, so that if a hacker breaches one system, there’s a good chance he’ll be tripped up by another.

While anti-virus solutions are good at blocking known malware, they are less effective against unknown malware. Hackers can also turn known malware into unknown malware in minutes using freely available online modification tools. Security should therefore be bolstered by sandboxing and other security monitoring tools.

Once an app bypasses the anti-virus system, a sandboxing solution will emulate how the app will perform if a user were to open it and will either alert the user if it is malicious or prevent the user from downloading it.

The next level of control involves monitoring the app for suspicious behaviour once it does execute, for example, if the device’s camera still records even though it is turned off. The software will either alert the user to the suspicious behaviour or quarantine the app for further investigation.

It’s tempting to agree to download an app in exchange for 25% off a shopping cart, but users should exercise caution and investigate not only the link they are being directed to but also the information the app asks to access before installing it. It’s safer to go directly to the retailer’s website and follow the download links, or to download the verified app from an app store, than to blindly trust a link in an email or SMS.

Businesses should assume that consumers are not protecting their devices or following due diligence when downloading apps and should implement multi-layered security systems that make it difficult for malicious apps to enter the network.

Hackers will continue to prey on network vulnerabilities and human error to steal information. As long as we stay one step ahead, we can afford to relax this festive season knowing our information is secure.

* Doros Hadjizenonos, Country Manager of Check Point South Africa

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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