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Biometrics key to data protection

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Faisal Al Bannai, the Managing Director for axiom Telecom, the region’s largest retailer and distributors for mobile devices and accessories explains how Biometrics are set to drive a significant improvement in protecting mobile phone users from a serious breach of their private or business data, with many devices currently creating an “unlocked back door” to online accounts and cloud storage

The recent International Trends in Cybersecurity Report by CompTIA found that almost 50 per cent of UAE businesses had experienced at least one IT security breach in the previous 12 months, with reliance on cloud computing and mobile technology forcing a change in security practices. Around 60 per cent reported a mobile-related security incident, including lost devices, mobile malware, phishing attacks, and staff disabling mobile devices’ security features.

The risk of criminals using a lost or stolen mobile phone to access important data is very real, with smartphones offering an instant connection to email, messaging and social networking accounts, as well as files kept in cloud storage. Your very identity is at risk of theft, yet a worrying number of users fail to activate their phone’s security features. The inconvenience of entering a PIN every time the user wants to unlock the phone is often cited as a reason for this. Using biometrics to unlock the phone can remove this inconvenience and help keep data secure, with fingerprint security already gaining acceptance.

Popularized by Apple’s TouchID feature, fingerprint recognition is now a common feature on higher-specification phones. It allows users to unlock a phone with a single touch, just as convenient as unlocking it by swiping a finger across the screen. A report from market intelligence firm Tractica has noted 2015 as being a ‘tipping point’ for mobile biometrics, with fingerprints emerging as the most common form of biometric authentication. Tractica predicts the number of mobile phones being shipped with fingerprint recognition will surpass one billion per year globally by 2021, representing 34 percent of the market.

However, the security of a fingerprint has been questioned. Traditional IT security relies on ‘something you know’, such as a password, or ‘something you have’, such as when you receive an SMS ‘token’ to complete a credit card purchase online. Biometrics are also ‘something you have’ – your fingerprint is unique, but tests have shown that fingerprint scanners can be fooled by a copy of the print – recognizing the pattern whether or not it’s attached to a finger.

The technology is getting better, but it’s not foolproof. The great benefit is for people who are currently choosing not to use any security for the phone. Even if thieves become adept at hacking fingerprints, there will at least be a delay between obtaining the phone and unlocking it, and that will give the phone’s owner some time to remotely disconnect the device from all their accounts.

For a higher level of protection, biometrics pave the way for convenient two-factor verification – you enter a PIN, using ‘something you know’ to verify your identity, and then use a fingerprint, which is ‘something you have’, to confirm that it was you who entered the code. Anyone trying to break into the phone needs to know the PIN, and also somehow obtain a copy of your fingerprint. That is going to be very difficult.

Looking to the future, the next generation of mobile biometrics is already emerging. Technology exists to support face recognition – also problematic, with a Google experiment fooled by a photograph – along with the more secure iris scan and voice recognition. Iris and voice are the most likely to gain mainstream acceptance.

Devices with iris scanners are already on the market, although they have yet to achieve widespread take-up, while voice recognition is tipped to be included in future versions of ‘intelligent personal assistant’ systems, such as Apple’s Siri, Google Now and Microsoft Cortana. A fingerprint is the most easily accepted biometric key, because it so closely replicates the way we are already accustomed to interacting with the device, but the most important aspect of fingerprint authentication may be as a step towards people accepting a range of other biometrics. Combined, these will lead to a quantum leap in terms of data security.

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Expert Speak

How Scammers Subscribe Mobile Users to Unwanted Paid Services

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With an ever growing number of smartphone users, the development of mobile applications has become a booming industry. Today there are millions of apps, helping users with almost every c of their everyday life – from entertainment to banking and billing. With this in mind, cybercriminals are working hard to develop their own apps and benefit from unsuspecting users.

Kaspersky researchers have observed fraudsters actively spreading Trojans, which secretly subscribe users to paid services, disguised as various different mobile apps, including popular games, healthcare apps and photo editors. Most of these Trojans request access to the user’s notifications and messages, so that the fraudsters can then intercept messages containing confirmation codes.

Users aren’t knowingly subscribing to these services but are, rather, falling victim to carelessness. For instance, a user fails to read the fine print and, before they know it, they’re paying for a horoscope app. These victims often don’t realize these subscriptions exist until their mobile phone account runs dry earlier than expected.

According to Kaspersky researchers, the most widely spread Trojans that sign users up to unwanted subscriptions are:

Jocker
Trojans from the Trojan.AndroidOS.Jocker family can intercept codes sent in text messages and bypass anti-fraud solutions. They’re usually spread on Google Play, where scammers download a legitimate app from the store, add malicious code to it and then re-upload it under a different name. In most cases, these trojanized apps fulfill their purpose and the user never suspects that they’re a source of threat.

So far in 2022, Jocker has most frequently attacked users in Saudi Arabia (21.20%), Poland, (8.98%) and Germany (6.01%).

MobOk
MobOk is considered the most active of the subscription Trojans with more than 70% of mobile users encountering these threats. MobOk Trojan is particularly notable for an additional capability that, in addition to reading the codes from messages, enables it to bypass CAPTCHA. MobOK does this by automatically sending the image to a service designed to decipher the code shown .

Since the beginning of the year, MobOk Trojan has most frequently attacked users in Russia (31.01%), India (11.17%) and Indonesia (11.02%).

Vesub
Vesub Trojan is spread through unofficial sources and imitates popular games and apps, such as GameBeyond, Tubemate, Minecraft, GTA5 and Vidmate. This malware opens an invisible window, requests a subscription and then enters the code it intercepts from the victim’s received text messages. After that the user is subscribed to a service without their knowledge or consent.

Most of these apps lack any legitimate functionality. They subscribe users as soon as they are launched while victims just see a loading window. However, there are some examples, such as a fake GameBeyond app, where the detected malware is actually accompanied by a random set of functional games.

Two out of five users who encountered Vesub were in Egypt (40.27%). This Trojan family has also been active in Thailand (25.88%) and Malaysia (15.85%).

GriftHorse.l
Unlike the Trojans mentioned above, this one does not subscribe victims to a third-party service – instead it uses its own. Users end up subscribing to one of these services by simply not reading the user agreement carefully. For example, there are apps that have recently spread intensively on Google Play, offering to tailor personal weight-loss plans for a token fee. Such apps contain small print mentioning a subscription fee with automatic billing. This means money will be deducted from the user’s bank account on a regular basis without needing any further confirmation from the user.

“Apps can help us stay connected, fit, entertained and generally make our lives easier. There are multiple mobile apps appearing every day, for every taste and purpose – unfortunately, cybercriminals are using this to their advantage. Some of the apps are designed to steal money by subscribing users to unwanted services. These threats are preventable, which is why it’s important to be aware of the signs that give away Trojanized apps. Even if you trust an app, you should avoid granting it too many permissions. Only allow access to notifications for apps that need it to perform their intended purposes, for example, to transfer notifications to wearable devices. Apps for something like themed wallpapers or photo editing don’t need access to your notifications,” explains Igor Golovin, security expert at Kaspersky.

Here’s what you need to do, to stay protected:

  • Keeping your guard up when installing apps from Google Play. Read the reviews, research the developer, terms of use and payment details. For messaging, choose a well-known app with positive reviews.
  • Checking the permissions of the apps you’re using and thinking carefully before granting additional permissions.
  • Using a reliable security solution to help detect malicious apps and adware before they achieve their goals.
  • Updating your operating system and any important apps as and when updates become available. Many safety issues can be solved by installing the updated versions of software.
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Three Most Dangerous Types of Android Malware

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Written by Lukas Stefanko, Malware Researcher at ESET

These days, the device in your pocket can do far more than call or send text messages. Your smartphone stores almost every aspect of your life, from memories, captured as photos to personal notes and schedules, log-in details, and various other kinds of sensitive data.

Android-powered devices command more than 70 percent of the mobile operating system market. Add to that the open nature of the Android ecosystem and it’s clearer why these devices bear the brunt of malicious attacks on mobile devices and remain a lucrative target for attackers.

Google has, of course, introduced a number of privacy- and security-enhancing features for Android devices. Just a few days ago, the company announced that it had stopped 1.2 million policy-violating apps from reaching Google Play last year, among other measures aimed at cracking down on malicious apps.

However, this is not to say you should let your guard down when it comes to all sorts of dangers that lurk especially in third-party app stores.

Malware comes in various forms and works in various vicious ways. Watch the video to learn more about some of the most dangerous types of malware affecting Android devices, including:

  • Malicious software that can hold your device and data hostage, possibly “on behalf of the FBI”
  • Malware that steals login credentials and can in some cases bypass two-factor authentication
  • Android nasties that give hackers control over your entire device
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Expert Speak

Netflix Wants All of Us to Understand the Cost of Password Sharing

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Written by Steven Hope, CEO, Authlogics

Have you ever shared your Netflix password? If so, you are not alone. But have you stopped to think about the impact it is having? Earlier this week, it was revealed that the streaming service has lost in the region of 200,000 of its 221 million global subscribers, with millions more expected to depart in the coming months. The resulting fall in the Netflix share price (at one point 35%) was a shock for many investors, but with many of us ‘boxsetted out’ by the pandemic, and a cost-of-living crisis looming for many, what can the company do to stem the tide?

It seems one of the big bugbears for Netflix is the habit of sharing account passwords and a survey conducted by time2play in the US, indicates just how widespread it has become. In fact, more than 50% of residents in 17 states including California, Illinois, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, admitted to using another person’s Netflix account.

Some may argue that it is an innocent and victimless crime rather than theft. After all, Netflix’s revenue in 2020 was $24.9 billion, more than doubling since 2017, a trend not currently looking likely to continue. So, what harm does sharing a password with family and friends really do? Sure, the company may miss a ‘few’ dollars, Euros, pounds, and so on, but would those benefitting ever actually become a customer? I suspect for many the answer is no.

Speaking as someone that has spent over a decade campaigning for businesses and people in general to practice safe passwords, the Netflix situation highlights to me how little value is placed on the password, yet how costly they are. This is especially true if there is no perceived risk to the person who owns that credential. You only need to look at the lists of the top four passwords – “123456”, “123456789”, “Qwerty” and of course “Password” – to see how much effort goes into devising something un-hackable!

Poor password practice is of course not isolated to streaming services, it is commonplace in a busy workplace. How often have you said or been asked ‘Can I borrow your login details as mine are not working?’. To make matters worse, with so many people still working from home, usernames and passwords are copied and pasted into emails, SMS, and chats with little thought of the consequences.

So, when Netflix warned that prices would need to rise if the rules continued to be broken, I was struck by how they were able to communicate to the global masses in a matter of days, the link between password abuse and financial ramification, in a way that as security professionals we could never do. However, this may have the opposite effect as inflation is everywhere right now, and I suspect more subscribers may balk at an increase, cancel and switch to using illegal logins instead to cut their household costs.

The reality is that the likes of Netflix will struggle to move to a different authentication mode other than passwords for practical reasons. Would you use a streaming service that requires you to authenticate each time they want to watch, using a One Time Password, PIN, or Code for example? I think not.

While the suggestions of advertising revenue may seem to plug some of the Netflix revenue gaps, they ought to tread carefully. Paying customers don’t want to see ads, and some cost-conscious paying customers may well downgrade and accept ads to save money. However, I would urge Netflix to take a close look at technologies available that could protect its content from exploitation and piracy, without compromising the user experience of those who pay for it.

Whatever Netflix decides to do, it needs to do it quickly. The more all of us feel the squeeze on our finances the more likely we are to cancel such services or be willing to participate in the illicit sharing of passwords.  But I would also urge any organisation that uses password-based logins to look at what is happening to Netflix and ask just how much is going on in your business?

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