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Why cyber criminals love your smartphone

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Smartphones have become a central part of our lives. But, while they aim to heighten convenience, there is a real feeling that smartphones are becoming a bigger target for cybercriminals, says CAREY VAN VLAANDEREN, ESET South Africa CEO.

So, why are criminals eager to get into our devices?

A smartphone knows everything about us

The amount of information stored on a smartphone has skyrocketed in recent years.  The connectivity of apps means we supply nearly every piece of information about ourselves, whether its bank account details or our preferred taste in pizza.

For a cybercriminal potentially wanting to commit identity theft, a smartphone is a goldmine.

It’s a way into companies and other organisations

The use of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) has become one of the most prominent trends for companies around the globe. Cybercriminals are viewing these devices as an ideal gateway into stealing valuable corporate information.

Security can be lax

The rise of BYOD has also caused plenty of headaches for a number of companies in various industries, mainly due to difficulties in rolling out a unified approach to security.

In a recent Tech Pro Research survey of CIOs, tech executives and IT workers, 45% of respondents said mobile devices posed the greatest risk to a company’s infrastructure, with the fragmented nature of some mobile platforms cited as a primary reason.

Autofill has become our best friend

One of the reasons our phones are carrying more personal information than ever before is primarily down to our desire for convenience.

With our devices now handling a myriad of services and subsequent apps, we find ourselves with a larger number login details than ever before.

It’s a route into your wallet

Our phones can be used to transfer money, pay our bills, and are even being used as a method of payment.

Apps such as SnapScan and FlickPay are pushing mobile payments into the  mainstream, and some experts expect it to be a trend that will continue over the next few years.

Of course, the only drawback is that they are likely to catch the attention of cybercriminals.

Phones know where you are and where you are work

In many circumstances, the reason behind tracking your device are entirely innocent, such as helping you get the most out of your data and your apps.

For example, if you’re out and about, you can check out restaurant or business recommendations with just a couple of swipes.

However, hacking a device’s GPS capabilities is not seen as a difficult task, with many gamers using it to cheat at the popular augmented reality game Pokémon Go in the hands of the criminals, a compromised GPS could be an unnerving prospect.

Bluetooth

For several years now, Bluetooth has been a regular feature on smartphones and other mobile devices. Yet, like GPS, it is still seen as a potential entry point for cybercriminals.

The effects of such an attack can result in Bluesnarfing – where a phone’s private information is compromised, or Bluebugging, which allows a criminal to take complete control of your phone.

But while there is a risk, these methods are becoming increasingly harder for hackers to exploit.

Some scams are specific to mobile

There are several well-known ways in which cybercriminals can use your smartphones to make quick cash.

In countries like China, for example, malware can be used to access devices and force them to call premium numbers that charge large amounts.

These scams are not only potentially lucrative, but can also spread across large numbers of devices.

They’re a great way of sending spam

Everyone hates spam. Well, apart from cybercriminals, anyway.

There are several reasons why a criminal would want to send spam, but many of them see smartphones as the ideal platform for sending these communications.

This is mainly because it is much harder for service providers to track down and block offenders.

Users are ignorant about the dangers

Many of the most seasoned tech users are now well acquainted with best practices when it comes to using laptops or desktops, but smartphones often slip down the list of priorities.

Which, in some ways is surprising, given that smartphones have increasingly been targeted since as early as 2005.

However, as the threat is more visible than ever, we’re slowly beginning to understand that security matters. Let’s treat them with the importance they deserve.

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Rain, Telkom Mobile, lead in affordable data

A new report by the telecoms regulator in South Africa reveal the true consumer champions in mobile data costs

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The latest bi-annual tariff analysis report produced by the Independent Communications Authority of South Africa (ICASA) reveals that Telkom Mobile data costs for bundles are two-thirds lower than those of Vodacom and MTN. On the other hand, Rain is half the price again of Telkom. 

The report focuses on the 163 tariff notifications lodged with ICASA during the period 1 July 2018 to 31 December 2018.

“It seeks to ensure that there is retail price transparency within the electronic communications sector, the purpose of which is to enable consumers to make an informed choice, in terms of tariff plan preferences and/or preferred service providers based on their different offerings,” said Icasa.

ICASA says it observed the competitiveness between licensees in terms of the number of promotions that were on offer in the market, with 31 promotions launched during the period. 

The report shows that MTN and Vodacom charge the same prices for a 1GB and a 3GB data bundle at R149 and R299 respectively.  On the other hand, Telkom Mobile charges (for similar-sized data bundles) R100 (1GB) and R201 (3GB). Cell C discontinued its 1GB bundle, which was replaced with a 1.5GB bundle offered at the same price as the replaced 1GB data bundle at R149. 

Rain’s “One Plan Package” prepaid mobile data offering of R50 for a 1GB bundle remains the most affordable when compared to the offers from other MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and MVNOs (Mobile Virtual Network Operators).  

“This development should have a positive impact on customers’ pockets as they are paying less compared to similar data bundles and increases choice,” said Icasa.

The report also revealed that the cost of out-of-bundle data had halved at both MTN and Vodacom, from 99c per Megabyte a year ago to 49c per Megabyte in the first quarter of this year. This was still two thirds more expensive than Telkom Mobile, which has charged 29c per Megabyte throughout this period (see graph below).

Meanwhile, from having positioned itself as consumer champion in recent years, Cell C has fallen on hard times, image-wise: it is by far the most expensive mobile network for out-of-bundle data, at R1.10 per Megabyte. Its prices have not budged in the past year.

The report highlights the disparities between the haves and have-nots in the dramatically plummeting cost of data per Megabyte as one buys bigger and bigger bundles on a 30-day basis (see graph below).

For 20 Gigabyte bundles, all mobile operators are in effect charging 4c per Megabyte. Only at that level do costs come in at under Rain’s standard tariffs regardless of use.

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Qualcomm wins 5G as Apple and Intel cave in

A flurry of announcements from three major tech players ushered in a new mobile chip landscape, wrItes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK

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Last week’s shock announcement by Intel that it was canning its 5G modem business leaves the American market wide open to Qualcomm, in the wake of the latter winning a bruising patent war with Apple.

Intel Corporation announced its intention to “exit the 5G smartphone modem business and complete an assessment of the opportunities for 4G and 5G modems in PCs, internet of things devices and other data-centric devices”.

Intel said it would also continue to invest in its 5G network infrastructure business, sharpening its focus on a market expected to be dominated by Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson.

Intel said it would continue to meet current customer commitments for its existing 4G smartphone modem product line, but did not expect to launch 5G modem products in the smartphone space, including those originally planned for launches in 2020. In other words, it would no longer be supplying chips for iPhones and iPads in competition with Qualcomm.

“We are very excited about the opportunity in 5G and the ‘cloudification’ of the network, but in the smartphone modem business it has become apparent that there is no clear path to profitability and positive returns,” said Intel CEO Bob Swan. “5G continues to be a strategic priority across Intel, and our team has developed a valuable portfolio of wireless products and intellectual property. We are assessing our options to realise the value we have created, including the opportunities in a wide variety of data-centric platforms and devices in a 5G world.”

The news came immediately after Qualcomm and Apple issued a joint announced of an agreement to dismiss all litigation between the two companies worldwide. The settlement includes a payment from Apple to Qualcomm, along with a six-year license agreement, and a multiyear chipset supply agreement.

Apple had previously accused Qualcomm of abusing its dominant position in modem chips for smartphones and charging excessive license fees. It ordered its contract manufacturers, first, to stop paying Qualcomm for the chips, and then to stop using the chips altogether, turning instead to Intel.
With Apple paying up and Intel pulling out, Qualcomm is suddenly in the pound seats. It shares hit their highest levels in five years after the announcements.

Qualcomm said in a statement: “As we lead the world to 5G, we envision this next big change in cellular technology spurring a new era of intelligent, connected devices and enabling new opportunities in connected cars, remote delivery of health care services, and the IoT — including smart cities, smart homes, and wearables. Qualcomm Incorporated includes our licensing business, QTL, and the vast majority of our patent portfolio.”

Meanwhile, Strategy Analytics released a report on the same day that showed Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia will lead the market in core 5G infrastructure, namely Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, by 2023 as the 5G market takes off. Huawei is expected to have the edge as a result of the vast scale of the early 5G market in China and its long term steady investment in R&D. According to a report entitled “Comparison and 2023 5G Global Market Potential for leading 5G RAN Vendors – Ericsson, Huawei and Nokia”, two outliers, Samsung and ZTE, are expected to expand their global presence alongside emerging vendors as competition heats up.

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