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Danger in dating apps

Kaspersky Lab has discovered a range of vulnerabilities contained in popular dating apps which could result in various negative consequences for users: from simply identifying a particular person, to unsecured data transmissions and the leaking of personal information.

Dating apps are quickly becoming more popular all over the world. According to the latest report “Dangerous Liaisons: is everyone doing it online?” as many as one-in-three people globally are currently using an online dating service. But, with the increasing popularity of these services comes an important security issue, since most dating services require users to share personal information. With this in mind, a team of Kaspersky Lab researchers decided to examine how secure they really are. They conducted detailed analyses of the most popular dating applications in different world regions, looking for various vulnerabilities that could affect users’ real lives and change their status from “daters” to “victims”.

This research revealed that users face multiple risks when using online dating apps. For example, they can be identified by finding out their names and surnames from social network profiles and can also be found in the physical world through the use of geolocation data. Furthermore, they can lose access to their accounts, or have their personal data fall into the wrong hands.

Our experts have discovered a common security risk present in several applications, related to the token-based authentication method which is used by dating apps for new registration and sign-up processes. A token is created on request by a server in order to uniquely identify the user and usually asks for access to a Facebook account. It then provides access to general user information, including first and last names, the user’s e-mail address and their profile picture. By using this method, applications receive all the necessary data to enable them to authenticate the user on its servers. However, based on the research, tokens are often stored or used insecurely and, therefore, can be easily stolen. As a result, intruders are able to gain temporary access to victims’ accounts even without their login and password details.

Following this vulnerability with insecure token storage, users may also face another threat related to the safety of message histories which are stored on the device and can be accessed and read by intruders. Such attacks are a particular threat to users of Android devices. Some of them, those running outdated software, have unclosed vulnerabilities that enable attackers to gain root access to the device, which can be used to gain access to private information, including that about user activity in dating apps such as messages written and photos viewed.

In addition, users of 6 of the analysed apps can be detected by their location. In some of the apps Kaspersky Lab also identified risks in data transmission process. Although most applications use SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) to secure communication with servers, some data is sent via the HTTP protocol and is not encrypted. This provides hackers with opportunities to intercept these communications, which often contain personal information such as the user’s location, profiles visited, messages, device data etc. Using an insecure connection, intruders can also gain control of a victim’s account.

“Our research demonstrates that users of dating apps should care very much about cybersecurity, because many such services are not protected against several different kinds of attacks. Besides this, users are putting themselves at risk by sharing sensitive personal information in their profiles such as their place of education and work. Armed with this information, intruders can easily find victims’ real accounts on Facebook and LinkedIn networks. It also opens possibilities for stalking – to harass users and track their movements in real life. Therefore, users should be sure to carefully monitor their privacy, security and data protection when dating online,” says Roman Unuchek, security expert at Kaspersky Lab.

To prevent your data from theft, Kaspersky Lab recommends the following:

  • Avoid public Wi-Fi hotspots which offer limited protection,
  • Use a VPN to ensure a secure connection,
  • Don’t share your sensitive ID information, such as education, work place, etc.,
  • Install a reliable security solution on your device such as Kaspersky Internet Security for Android.

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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