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More threats to Android and iOS

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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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Money talks and electronic gaming evolves

Computer gaming has evolved dramatically in the last two years, as it follows the money, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK in the second of a two-part series.

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The clue that gaming has become big business in South Africa was delivered by a non-gaming brand. When Comic Con, an American popular culture convention that has become a mecca for comics enthusiasts, was hosted in South Arica for the first time last month, it used gaming as the major drawcard. More than 45 000 people attended.

The event and its attendance was expected to be a major dampener for the annual rAge gaming expo, which took place just weeks later. Instead, rAge saw only a marginal fall in visitor numbers. No less than 34 000 people descended on the Ticketpro Dome for the chaos of cosplay, LAN gaming, virtual reality, board gaming and new video games. 

It proved not only that there was room for more than one major gaming event, but also that a massive market exists for the sector in South Africa. And with a large market, one also found numerous gaming niches that either emerged afresh or will keep going over the years. One of these, LAN (for Local Area Network) gaming, which sees hordes of players camping out at the venue for three days to play each other on elaborate computer rigs, was back as strong as ever at rAge.

MWeb provided an 8Gbps line to the expo, to connect all these gamers, and recorded 120TB in downloads and 15Tb in uploads – a total that would have used up the entire country’s bandwidth a few years ago.

“LANs are supposed to be a thing of the past, yet we buck the trend each year,” says Michael James, senior project manager and owner of rAge. “It is more of a spectacle than a simple LAN, so I can understand.”

New phenomena, often associated with the flavour of the moment, also emerge every year.

“Fortnite is a good example this year of how we evolve,” says James. “It’s a crazy huge phenomenon and nobody was servicing the demand from a tournament point of view. So rAge and Xbox created a casual LAN tournament that anyone could enter and win a prize. I think the top 10 people got something each round.”

Read on to see how esports is starting to make an impact in gaming.

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Blockchain unpacked

Blockchain is generally associated with Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, but these are just the tip of the iceberg, says ESET Southern Africa.

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This technology was originally conceived in 1991, when Stuart Haber and W. Scott Stornetta described their first work on a chain of cryptographically secured blocks, but only gained notoriety in 2008, when it became popular with the arrival of Bitcoin. It is currently gaining demand in other commercial applications and its annual growth is expected to reach 51% by 2022 in numerous markets, such as those of financial institutions and the Internet of Things (IoT), according to MarketWatch.

What is blockchain?

A blockchain is a unique, consensual record that is distributed over multiple network nodes. In the case of cryptocurrencies, think of it as the accounting ledger where each transaction is recorded.

A blockchain transaction is complex and can be difficult to understand if you delve into the inner details of how it works, but the basic idea is simple to follow.

Each block stores:

–           A number of valid records or transactions.
–           Information referring to that block.
–           A link to the previous block and next block through the hash of each block—a unique code that can be thought of as the block’s fingerprint.

Accordingly, each block has a specific and immovable place within the chain, since each block contains information from the hash of the previous block. The entire chain is stored in each network node that makes up the blockchain, so an exact copy of the chain is stored in all network participants.

As new records are created, they are first verified and validated by the network nodes and then added to a new block that is linked to the chain.

How is blockchain so secure?

Being a distributed technology in which each network node stores an exact copy of the chain, the availability of the information is guaranteed at all times. So if an attacker wanted to cause a denial-of-service attack, they would have to annul all network nodes since it only takes one node to be operative for the information to be available.

Besides that, since each record is consensual, and all nodes contain the same information, it is almost impossible to alter it, ensuring its integrity. If an attacker wanted to modify the information in a blockchain, they would have to modify the entire chain in at least 51% of the nodes.

In blockchain, data is distributed across all network nodes. With no central node, all participate equally, storing, and validating all information. It is a very powerful tool for transmitting and storing information in a reliable way; a decentralised model in which the information belongs to us, since we do not need a company to provide the service.

What else can blockchain be used for?

Essentially, blockchain can be used to store any type of information that must be kept intact and remain available in a secure, decentralised and cheaper way than through intermediaries. Moreover, since the information stored is encrypted, its confidentiality can be guaranteed, as only those who have the encryption key can access it.

Use of blockchain in healthcare

Health records could be consolidated and stored in blockchain, for instance. This would mean that the medical history of each patient would be safe and, at the same time, available to each doctor authorised, regardless of the health centre where the patient was treated. Even the pharmaceutical industry could use this technology to verify medicines and prevent counterfeiting.

Use of blockchain for documents

Blockchain would also be very useful for managing digital assets and documentation. Up to now, the problem with digital is that everything is easy to copy, but Blockchain allows you to record purchases, deeds, documents, or any other type of online asset without them being falsified.

Other blockchain uses

This technology could also revolutionise the Internet of Things  (IoT) market where the challenge lies in the millions of devices connected to the internet that must be managed by the supplier companies. In a few years’ time, the centralised model won’t be able to support so many devices, not to mention the fact that many of these are not secure enough. With blockchain, devices can communicate through the network directly, safely, and reliably with no need for intermediaries.

Blockchain allows you to verify, validate, track, and store all types of information, from digital certificates, democratic voting systems, logistics and messaging services, to intelligent contracts and, of course, money and financial transactions.

Without doubt, blockchain has turned the immutable and decentralized layer the internet has always dreamed about into a reality. This technology takes reliance out of the equation and replaces it with mathematical fact.

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