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More threats to Android and iOS

A recent report has shown that cyber criminals are continuing to leverage security flaws in Android and iOS, meaning that manufacturers and carriers need a more integrated set of security strategies to keep their consumers’ phones safe from malware and the like.

Cyber-criminals continue to leverage the gaps in the security of Android and iOS operating systems to target mobile device users, regardless of platform, which is causing an increase in the already exponential growth of mobile malware.

According to the Trend Micro Q3 Security Roundup Report, Mediaserver vulnerabilities that were found in Android signalled that Google, manufacturers and carriers need a more integrated set of security strategies. Attackers also continue to find alternate means of breaking through iOS security walls. In the past quarter, modified versions of app-creation tools like Xcode and Unity made it clear that Apple’s walled garden approach to security can no longer spare iOS from attacks.

“Google has released a report that says less than 1% of apps found in the Google Play Store are potentially harmful,” says Darryn O’Brien, country manager at Trend Micro Southern Africa. “However, that doesn’t mean that users aren’t at risk. Android’s latest worry is Mediaserver, which handles all media related tasks and recently became and is likely to remain an active attack target. We have seen attackers exploit at least five vulnerabilities in the service in just this last quarter.”

“We found a bug in Mediaserver that could leave Android phones silent and users unable to send texts or make calls. As of July 2015, reports stated that over half of Android devices were vulnerable to this flaw. The Stagefright vulnerability, gave attackers the power to install malware on affected devices by distributing malicious MMSs which reportedly put 94.1% of Android devices at risk by July 2015,” says O’Brien.

Another vulnerability found in Mediaserver was capable of causing devices to endlessly reboot and allowed attackers to remotely run arbitrary code, to which 89% of Android devices were susceptible at the time. O’Brien adds that the fifth vulnerability known as CVE-2015-3842, allowed remote code execution in Mediaserver’s AudioEffect component and was seen in the landscape in August this year.

“The discovery of these Android vulnerabilities prompted Google to implement regular security updates for the platform, so that was positive. However, the platform’s current state of fragmentation may affect some users as security patches might not make their way to all devices unless there’s support from manufacturers and carriers,” says O’Brien.

Apple’s walled garden approach has given it a reputation as a safer choice when it comes to mobile devices as it meant stricter app-posting policies and thus more secure apps. But according to the Q3 Security Roundup, this belief was dispelled in the last quarter when several iOS applications on the App Store and third-party stores where infected with a piece of code called “XcodeGhost”. Through these malicious apps, cybercriminals could execute fraud, phishing and even data theft.

“A scary vulnerability in iOS in the past quarter was Quicksand, which was capable of leaking data sent to and from mobile-device-management (MDM) enabled users, and that put not only personal data but corporate data at risk. The operating system’s AirDrop feature also featured in the exploit landscape and was even able to reach users whose devices weren’t configured to accept files sent through AirDrop.”

According to the report, the technology giant was swift in addressing the issues and removed infected applications from its App Store. However, Trend Micro believes that there are bound to be increasing iOS threats in the future as the mobile user base continues to expand.

“Cybercriminals will make it their mission to find more ways around Apple’s strict policies and walled garden. Cross-platform threats that put not only individuals but also businesses at risk, can also be expected to continue,” says O’Brien.

“Mobile devices are a gold mine for cybercriminals and they will continue to be targeted. Mobile malware will grow and it’s important that local mobile users are aware that they aren’t safe from these types of threats just because South Africa may not be a main target. Having sufficient security on all your mobile devices is essential to the safety of your own data, and now, even the data of your workplace.”

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Cisco gives pre-owned tech a Refresh

In a market of constant upgrades, Cisco Refresh aims to keep quality product away from landfills, writes BRYAN TURNER.

When one gets a new smartphone upgrade, the old device may be used as a backup or can be used by someone else. In business environments, equipment upgrades may not be conducive to keeping old equipment around, which may send older, working equipment to landfills.

This is where Cisco’s Refresh initiative comes in. At Cisco Connect in Sun City this week, Ehrika Gladden, VP and general manager of Cisco Refresh, lifted the lid on a little-known aspect of the company’s strategy. 

“Refresh is Cisco’s global pre-owned equipment business unit,” said Gladden. “It is certified to meet the quality and engineering standards of Cisco. It is licensed for software and it’s also inclusive of a services warranty.

“Our responsibility in 80 countries around the world is tied to both the recovery of assets and the ability to leverage those assets at a lower price point. This ensures our sustainability and proper usage of the Earth’s resources while providing access to small and medium businesses. The products are typically in the range of 20-40% cheaper. The products represent the entire portfolio for Cisco in some part, the majority of that product set is 2+ years in terms of generation.”

Cisco’s Circular Economy initiative ensures a sustainable loop through businesses willing to pay a premium for the latest, cutting-edge solutions, while Cisco markets older, working equipment for resale to those who don’t require the latest solutions. This ensures far less new components need to be used in a product range.

“We are leveraging the model of remanufacturing, refurbishing, recycling, and reusing,” said Gladden. “Depending on the product set, there is a certain set of product yield that we expect. They vary from product to product, but we do have a percentage that doesn’t make it through.

“Those are always reused, meaning we will look at those products and decide to use them completely differently, leveraging the components, remanufacturing back into the overall build process. If that can’t be done, we will go into a recycle process where we melt those products down to reuse them.”

Repairing and refurbishing older products isn’t just that. Cisco is creating repair centres that are owned by third-parties to uplift local ownership.

“The repair centres, as a global manufacturer, is Cisco’s entree into local ownership,” said Gladden. “I want to be precise about what I mean by local ownership. It’s critical for us to have a localised presence, but doing that through ownership. When you look at inclusive economies, those that are participative, to be sustainable – not in the product set, but generationally.

“The ability as a global manufacturer through a local ownership model  isto create a repair centre where a product can be returned, screened, tested, and repaired, leveraging the talent that the Networking Academy is creating.”

Cisco is working closely with local governments to understand where it operates and how to leverage the skills in the market.

Gladden said: “We are also super excited about the National Development Plan and African Union statements which with we align: eradication of poverty, job creation, ownership, healthcare, education, it all fits in the model. So we were very excited to have the opportunity to come to Africa first to announce this. Over the next twelve months, we want to establish our first repair centres, and in the next 3 to 5 years, build that vision into a reality.”

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Why Data Privacy has become a Pipe Dream

If you’re active on WhatsApp, Facebook or any other social platform, you’re not as safe as you thought, writes
AARON THORNTON, MD of Dial a Nerd

As you begin to read this, let’s perform a quick experiment! How many active conversations are you engaged in – right now – on WhatsApp? When was the last time you shared a picture or video on Instagram? Is Facebook currently open and active on one of your devices? And how many internet- connected devices are you using at this moment? Chances are, you have multiple devices running multiple applications most of the time. So what’s the problem, you ask? Since when did checking in with a high school buddy in Australia via Facebook become a dangerous act?  

In reply, we say, read on if you can stomach it!  

Nation-State Hacking & You  

It might seem like a laughably long shot to say that you are a key player in the increasingly sinister and sophisticated world of nation-state hacking. Well, you are. Given that individuals, businesses and governments are now constantly connected, round the clock, consumers and businesses have become fair game in cyber espionage. And as we create and share more and more data, both the value and accessibility of that data increases. According to a report by McAfee, IP theft now accounts for more than 25% of the estimated $600 billion cost of cybercrime to the world economy.    

With data having become the ‘new gold’, nation states are naturally pouring investment and key resources into building advanced cyber warfare tools. Indeed, entire divisions of armed forces as well as the upper echelons of corporate leadership are devising ways to harness data to gain economic, political and social power. At the highest level, tools and platforms are being developed with the specific aim of perpetrating cyber espionage and data theft. No surprise then, that the consumer and business environments are rife with increasingly advanced malware, ransomware and many other malicious hacking tools and methods.  

Still not convinced? Yes, we can smell the scepticism from here! So let’s take a moment to see how this has already played out, beneath our noses.  

Remember the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data scandal of early 2018? For many, this was a watershed moment in the emerging war for consumer data – and the ensuing tensions between privacy, power and profit. Need a refresh? Well, in 2018, Facebook exposed data on up to 87 million Facebook users to a researcher who worked at Cambridge Analytica, which worked for the Trump campaign. In essence, the data was harvested without user consent and used for political purposes.  

Another chilling but less direct example can be found in Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. elections. According to Politico, Russia launched a massive social media campaign to ‘sow discord’ leading up to the elections. The website reported that as early as 2014, an infamous Russian “troll farm” known as the Internet Research Agency – a company linked to Russian president Putin – developed a strategy using fraudulent bank accounts and other fake identity documents to “spread distrust towards the candidates and the political system in general.” 

When referring to the Russian hacks and their impact on election results, one U.S. Representative sagely noted: “They didn’t just steal data; they weaponized it.” 

Ignorance is not bliss 

Okay, so data is being ‘weaponized’, and ordinary people and businesses are being caught in the crosshairs of cyber warfare. A little bit frightening, but the good news is that savvy individuals like you can take steps to protect personal data and actively combat the creeping influence of juggernauts such as Facebook and Google.  

To begin with, awareness is key. As you engage with various platforms and applications at work and at home, take time to understand how your data is being used and what the terms of use are. Is your data being accessed and sold to advertisers? Have you consented to this? In addition to scrutinizing your consent, also pay close attention to how much data you share online – and the nature of the details you are divulging. Always keep in mind that hackers are employing smart social engineering tactics and using the details of your private life (birthdays, holidays, pet’s names, etc) to trick you into opening infected emails and clicking on malware. Whenever you are online, you are a target – and vigilance at all times is critical. Beyond that, it goes without saying that you must commit to following basic security protocols with your devices. So always keep software up to date and keep your data backed up so that you can reboot or wipe a device if needed.   

Now that we’ve left you sufficiently spooked, you can get back to those demanding WhatsApp/Facebook/Instagram notifications (same company, by the way)…albeit, we hope, with a slightly altered [cyber] worldview!  

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