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Peril of Pokemon Go

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DOROS HADJIZENONOS, Country Manager at Check Point Software Technologies South Africa examines the mobile security implications of Pokemon Go – and how these can be addressed.

Pokémon GO has taken one of the biggest cultural crazes of the late 90s and turned it into the most popular augmented reality game yet created.  The game is free to download to an Android or iOS device, and uses the device’s GPS location capabilities and clock to detect when and where the user is in the game.  It then uses the device’s camera to make Pokémon characters appear in the player’s on-screen surroundings, ready to be ‘caught’.

It’s undoubtedly a hugely clever concept, combining personalised interactivity with an existing, massively popular concept and character set.  So it’s no surprise that Pokémon Go swept to the top of the app download charts within just five hours of being released, and was installed on 7.5M devices in a week – the equivalent of 5% of all Android devices in the US after just 2 days – making it more popular than dating app, Tinder.

However, in their mission to ‘catch ‘em all’, Pokémon GO users could be inadvertently exposing themselves to a range of security risks and cyber threats.  And even if you have no knowledge of, or interest in the game, it could have a huge impact on your business’s information security posture.  Here’s how.

Is it for real?

A very real threat with an app this popular is the legitimacy of the download.  Pokémon GO has initially only been available in a limited set of countries, so enthusiasts have turned to unofficial app stores and download sites.  This massively increases the chance of the game being infected with something damaging.  It took just four days for cybercriminals to exploit this demand and assemble a repackaged download of Pokémon GO, complete with embedded malware.  The malware, DroidJack, specifically targets Android users and once installed can access everything on the device including email, contacts, photos, videos and text messages.  It can even give attackers remote control of the device’s camera or microphone, to enable remote recording.  Clearly, if the phone also contains or even just occasionally accesses sensitive corporate information, then this is a huge problem.

When a download’s popularity exceeds its initial availability, some customers will turn to unofficial channels to obtain it – creating an opportunity for cybercriminals to exploit that demand.  It’s easy to imagine the same scenario applying to future games too.

Capturing your data

Nevertheless, Pokémon GO is being rolled out as quickly as possible, and you might think that so long as users (some of which may be your employees) are all downloading the official version, then there’s no problem.  But that’s not the case – it still presents a security risk.  So let’s take a closer look at how Pokémon GO works.

Once installed on a smartphone, the app accesses that phone’s GPS, clock and camera in order to use the search giant’s location data.  Crucially, the app is closely linked to Google; players have to sign up with a Google.com account, and the developer of the game is owned by Google.  As such, users are essentially giving the legitimate Pokémon GO app permission to see their Gmail, calendars, photos and more. It is an app that is designed, from scratch, to track its users’ whereabouts and behavior.  While they are focused on catching Pokemon, the app is quietly capturing a range of potentially sensitive data from the device.  Is that information that you are willing to share outside of your organisation?

But I’m not the one playing!

Even if you have no desire to download and play Pokémon GO, the chances are that some of your staff – or perhaps one of their kids – will.  In other words, in a company of any size, it’s almost certain that several devices in that company’s mobile estate – whether employee owned or corporate-owned – will have the game downloaded onto it sooner or later.

What’s more, the enormous popularity of Pokémon GO suggests that this will just be the first of many augmented-reality smartphone games, which will still rely on the same access to location data, images and other information from your device.  It’s an issue that is only going to get bigger.

This means that now, more than ever, it is vital for businesses to develop and implement a mobile security strategy for all devices used in their organisation.  Mobile device management (MDM) helps to enforce policies around app downloads and device usage, but is not a complete solution in itself, as some products cannot detect malware or other malicious activity.  The best approach to stopping malware and related exploits is to deploy security on the devices that works with MDM, and is capable of detecting malicious apps or malware that try to embed themselves and steal data.  The solution should be able to inspect and quarantine suspicious apps in the cloud, before they are downloaded on the device.  This way, any threats can be neutralised before they are able to take hold.

There is also an important employee training and corporate policy element to consider. You may not have total control over what staff do with their phones, but you can certainly help them to recognise the potential dangers of downloading content from unofficial app stores or sites, and ensuring that phone data is regularly backed up.

The rush to ‘catch ‘em all’ shows no signs of slowing down yet – just make sure that in the process, your business doesn’t inadvertently catch something much nastier.

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Data journalism takes top prize in revamped awards

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The entries to the 2018 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Awards were extraordinarily varied and of an excellent standard, with new categories introduced which are based on content as opposed to platforms. This year, the judges decided that two entries were equally worthy of the coveted Vodacom Journalist of the Year Award.

The first co-winning entry, in the new Data Journalism category, is a set of stories by Alastair Otter and Laura Grant of Media Hack which showed how Data Journalism is shaping the future. The second co-winning entrant is Bongani Fuzile of the Daily Dispatch for his articles in the investigative category on how migrant workers were being ripped off by pension deductions (full citations below).

Convenor of the judging panel Ryland Fisher says: “This year we modernised the 12 categories that journalists could enter their work in and the change was embraced by entrants. In a turbulent time for media, the 2018 entries once again proved that there are excellent South African journalists delivering praiseworthy work, and we commend them for finding new and innovative ways to cover the news.”

Takalani Netshitenzhe, Chief Officer for Corporate Affairs at the Vodacom Group, says: “Vodacom is proud of its 17-year association with these prestigious awards, which make an important contribution to our society through the recognition of journalistic excellence. I’d like to congratulate all of tonight’s winners and, as always, I’d like to pay tribute to our hardworking judges. Ryland Fisher, Mathatha Tsedu, Arthur Goldstuck, Collin Nxumalo, Elna Rossouw, Patricia McCracken, Megan Rusi, Mary Papayya, Albe Grobbelaar and Obed Zilwa: thank you for making these awards a continued success.”

Veteran journalist and media stalwart Ms Amina Frense is the winner of the 2018 Vodacom Journalist of the Year Lifetime Achiever AwardShe has spent decades in mainstream media both locally and internationally. She is a former Managing Editor: News and Current Affairs at the SA Broadcasting Corporation. She has worked in many countries abroad as a producer and a foreign correspondent, has written two books and is also a founding member of SANEF where she still serves as a council member (full citation below).

The overall winners share the R100 000 main prize. National winners in the various categories are as follows, with each winner taking home R10 000:

SPORT

The entries in this category were of an exceptionally high standard. One entrant stood out and became the unanimous winner. This journalist showed an exceptional skill for story-telling and for finding unexpected angles and unknown facts. For his stories about Musangwe’s fight for recognitionAge cheating in SA football, and Hansie Cronje revisited, the winner is Ronald Masinda, and the team of Gift Kganyago, Nceba Ntlanganiso and Charles Lombard from eSAT TV.

Click here to see who won the awards for data journalism , CSI/sustainability and photography.

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Cons exploit Telegram ICO

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Kaspersky Lab researchers have uncovered dozens of highly convincing fake websites claiming to be investment sites for an initial coin offering (ICO) by the Telegram messaging service. Many of these websites appear to belong to the same group. In one case alone, tens of thousands of US dollars’ worth of cryptocurrency were stolen from victims believing they were investing in ‘Grams’, Telegram’s rumoured new currency. Telegram has not officially confirmed an ICO and has warned people about fraudulent investor sites.

In late 2017, stories started to circulate that the Telegram messaging service was launching an initial coin offering (ICO) to finance a blockchain platform based on its TON (Telegram Open Network) technology. Unverified technical documentation was posted online, but there appears to have been no confirmation from Telegram itself. The resulting confusion seems to have allowed fraudsters to capitalise on investor interest by creating fake sites and stealing vast sums of money.

Kaspersky Lab researchers have discovered dozens of such sites, possibly belonging to the same group, claiming to sell tokens for ‘Grams’ and inviting investors to pay with cryptocurrencies including Bitcoin, Ethereum, lice litecoin, dash and Bitcoin dash. A record of transactions on one site revealed that the scammers were able to steal at least $35,000 US dollars’ worth of Ethereum from investors.

The researchers found that some of the websites were so convincing that even after Telegram and others began to issue warnings, they were still able to recruit potential investors. Most use a secure connection, require registration and generate a unique online wallet for each new victim, making it harder to track the money.

Judging by the content of the fake websites, it appears they may have common ownership. For example, several have the exactly the same ‘Our Team’ section.

“ICOs are a fairly risky investment and many people don’t yet fully understand how they work, so it is not surprising that high quality fake websites, with seemingly reassuring features such as a secure connection and registration are successful at luring people in. People wishing to invest in an ICO would do well to check with the company behind it and make sure they know exactly who they are giving their money to, or they may never see it again,” said Nadezhda Demidova, Lead Web-Content Analyst, Kaspersky Lab.

Kaspersky Lab offers the following advice for users considering investing in an ICO:

  • Check for warning signs: for example, some of the fake Telegram ICO websites had the same wrong image next to the name of Telegram’s Chief Product Officer.
  • Do your homework: always check with the brand’s official site to verify the legitimacy of the investment site and, if necessary contact the company’s ICO teams before investing any money or currency.
  • Use reliable security solutions such as Kaspersky Internet Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, which will warn you if you try to visit fake internet pages.

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