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How to Protect Yourself From Scam Apps

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Written by Lysa Myers, Security Researcher at ESET

There’s nothing new about advertisers and app developers using deceptive practices, but the Touch ID scam that Lukáš Štefanko wrote about recently is a significant twist in this ongoing story. Of course, iOS users are not alone in facing these dilemmas; as Lukáš wrote earlier this year, Android users are experiencing their own flood of predatory app tactics too.

What can we do to protect ourselves against these fraudulent practices?

Be aware of the limitations of app store review processes
The policies and review procedures of major app stores do keep out a large number of fraudulent apps. While there are always more things they might and probably should be doing to continue to improve this problem, it is an ongoing learning process for all of us.

Due to the incredibly large total number of apps and updates that each major app store sees every day, much of the work involved in the review of new submissions is automated. This means that each app likely has functionality that will not necessarily be seen by a human or be tested specifically. Even very well-known and more-or-less legitimate app vendors have been caught doing things to try to evade having certain functionality reviewed. This means it’s still crucial to do our own due diligence.

Read reviews
While most scam apps do in fact include numerous positive reviews, these often show signs of phoniness. The wording may be very vague, downright nonsensical, or exhibit repetitive patterns (including different reviews repeating the same phrases or having similar usernames, for example). It’s a good idea to re-order the ranking options on reviews to see a more balanced picture: depending on the particular app store, you can sort the reviews to see those that have been deemed “most helpful” or that are ranked “most critical” first.

Be patient
The best time to figure out whether an app is a scam is before you download it. While it may be hard to calm the fear of missing out, it’s best to wait a few days or weeks before downloading brand new apps, to let other people be the “guinea pigs”. This way you can read what other people have to say about the app’s functionality before making a decision.

Use apps by developers you know and trust
If at all possible, it’s a good idea to stick with reputable app developers. If you’re new to a platform, that may be easier said than done. In that case, it’s a good idea to do a little more research first, to get a better sense of whether a particular developer already has other well-reviewed and popular apps that are currently available for download.

Be aware of valid functionality
While it can be hard to keep up with the complete picture of what each new device can do, it’s a good idea to be at least somewhat aware of the functionality of your device. For example: fingerprint data are not accessible to apps, only a “yes” or “no” verdict about whether your fingerprint matches the one previous stored on your device. This is to say that apps cannot use a scan of your finger to give advice on calorie data, nutrition information, how much water you should drink, or to present ancestry analysis. (It’s worth noting that you couldn’t really get valid information on any of those things from a scan of your finger even if the app could access those data.)

If your phone has existing functionality like a QR reader or a flashlight app, it might not be a good idea to install an app that does that exact same thing, especially as many of these apps have a history of being problematic. If you’re looking to specifically try a different app than one your phone already has – like a mail reader or an internet browser – be sure to read some third party reviews first, to see which options are well-reviewed and popular.

Dig deeper
There are a variety of things you can look at to find information that might indicate a predatory app. Do the developers have other apps available already, and are they reviewed well? Do they have a website that appears professional, including contact information? What results are returned if you do an internet search for the name of the app or developer plus the word “scam”? Can you find more information on third-party sources regarding subscription rates or in-app purchase prices? (Apple may offer information about the latter within the app description.) Does the app purport to give you a free or discount version of more expensive for-fee app? (These scams often cost more than just money!)

Request a refund and report bad actors
If you’ve gotten as far as having already downloaded an app that turned out to be a scam, ask the app store or the bank attached to your payment card to refund the charge. If the purchase was in the form of a subscription, this may be more complicated, but it will soon become worth your time and effort to have gone through the entire process. You can also report fraudulent apps to the app stores themselves, as well as contributing reviews that describe your experience.

It’s time to push back against “dark patterns”
Many of us already vote with our wallets when it comes to sub-optimal software behavior, by choosing not to purchase or support companies that fail to consider privacy or security, or that behave in ways that we consider too predatory or problematic. But there is another area that more people should be aware of, that describes a more understated category of sketchy behavior.

“Dark patterns” describe the scenario where a user interface is designed to intentionally trick or emotionally manipulate you into clicking where otherwise you might not. In the case of the Fitness Balance app, it takes advantage of the fact that the Home button on some iPhones or iPads can serve two purposes: your finger is already resting on a (fingerprint) sensor in a way that can also be used to select an option on the screen. Newer versions of the iPhone require you to make two distinct actions for these things; you must take your finger off the sensor for a moment after a fingerprint scan, before it can be used to select an option.

Some dark patterns are much less obvious, because they take advantage of expectations that we may not be consciously aware that we have, or because they cause us to be more inattentive. Here are a few examples of scenarios in user interfaces that predatory app makers may try to manipulate:

  • we expect an “Accept” option to be the bigger or more obvious one
  • we may rush decisions if we’re overwhelmed or frustrated
  • we may be less cautious of what’s on our screen if we’re trying to brush away detritus
  • in many cultures, we expect red to mean “stop” and green to mean “go”
  • we expect a “close” button to appear in certain predictable locations
  • buttons may be labeled in ways that makes their meaning unclear

In cases where emotional manipulation is in play, there may be a confirmation dialog that tries to guilt-trip or scare you into changing a selection. This is where things can get a little nebulous: when is it a legitimate warning, rather than unnecessary fearmongering? This can be something of a value judgment, which is subject to our own interpretation. Whatever you decide, you can let software vendors know that you value a clear and predictable user experience that does not rely on fear, uncertainty and doubt.

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Online Marketplace Ayshei Launches in the UAE

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Ayshei.com a Web3-enabled online marketplace, has officially launched, marking a paradigm shift in the UAE digital commerce landscape. The marketplace introduces a novel approach to customer-2-customer (C2C) online commerce, providing users with a dynamic space to buy, sell, and bid on products and services. Ayshei.com also introduces an open auction model, featuring multiple categories, public chats, online payment options, and turnkey logistics as well as, a unique live auction feature enabling live streaming to engage bidders in real time.

In addition to the open auction model, the marketplace integrates innovative bargaining features to ensure users get the best deals, culminating in a robust and interconnected community. Mohammed Shaiba Al Mazrouei, CEO of Ayshei, commented on the launch, saying, “We are thrilled to bring Ayshei.com to the UAE market, offering a new way for buyers and sellers to connect. Users can now join and become part of the Ayshei community, where opportunities are limitless. In addition, we will be launching a complementary mobile app offering our users further on-the-go convenience. We are also proud that Ayshei.com is built upon Web3-enabled blockchain technology, ensuring a transparent, open and decentralised platform granting our users more security and control, resulting in a truly customer-centric online experience.”

The marketplace offers Emirates ID profile verification, UAE Pass integration, high-value product authentications, inspections, and advanced transaction monitoring. Additionally, Ayshei has partnered with Transguard, a leader in logistics solutions, to guarantee best-in-class end-to-end services for seamless and efficient deliveries. Future Ayshei.com features include Proptech solutions for the real estate market, other AI-driven technologies and more. “Ayshei Business” will also launch by mid-2024, targeting the needs of SMEs, home businesses, and independent sellers. Offering an all-in-one virtual store, enabling users to create online trade licenses and bank accounts, in addition to payment gateways and logistics (including end-to-end self-storage and delivery).

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TikTok Creator Hub’s Second Edition to Spotlight Women in Business

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TikTok MENA has launched the second edition of the TikTok Creator Hub to spotlight women-led businesses and foster a supportive environment for their growth. This innovative program, presented in a competition format, allows participants to showcase their unique talents and business acumen, emphasizing the remarkable contributions of women in the business world.

The culmination of the program will be a grand awards ceremony in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, celebrating the achievements of these exceptional women leaders. With UN Women serving on the judging panel for the TikTok Creator Hub, the program’s primary objective is to recognize and nurture the business talents of women entrepreneurs in the MENA region. The initiative is dedicated to guiding female entrepreneurs on their entrepreneurial journey and rallying behind the women’s business community.

“We’re proud to collaborate with TikTok on this empowering journey. Together, we are working towards helping women-led businesses flourish in the MENA region, making a significant impact in the world of entrepreneurship,” said Susanne Mikhail Eldhagen, UN Women Regional Director for the Arab States region.

The program will offer participants distinctive opportunities, including mentorship from accomplished female leaders, guidance on leveraging content creation platforms for business promotion, and the chance to connect with like-minded women, establishing a robust support network. Inspirational female entrepreneurs from across the region will have the opportunity to unite, benefiting from ample funding, educational resources, mentorship, and networking prospects.

TikTok will actively promote this year’s Creator Hub initiative using the hashtag #HerAmbitions, spotlighting the invaluable role women play in the business landscape. Female entrepreneurs in the MENA region can share their stories, inspire others, and be part of a supportive community that celebrates women in business. The competition format not only acknowledges the potential of women entrepreneurs but also empowers them to share their creative and entrepreneurial ideas with a global audience. Through the program, participants will gain access to other successful female leaders, acquiring insights, advice, and guidance to enhance their entrepreneurial skills.

The judging panel for the competition will include esteemed creators and entrepreneurs. As a capacity-building initiative, the TikTok Creator Hub not only aims to cultivate a supportive and collaborative environment for female entrepreneurs but also empowers them to upskill and thrive through a comprehensive support system, providing the tools, knowledge, and resources for their advancement. By nurturing business ambitions among women in the MENA region, the Creator Hub will ultimately assist the selected entrepreneurs in reaching a broader market and further developing their brands.

Speaking about the exciting initiative, Kinda Ibrahim — General Manager of Operations, TikTok Middle East, Turkey, Africa, Pakistan and South Asia — said, “TikTok believes in the boundless potential of women entrepreneurs in the MENA region and is dedicated to creating an environment where their ambitions can thrive. The second edition of The Creator Hub #HerAmbition is more than a competition: we’re setting the stage for these remarkable women leaders to shine and inspire others. The #HerAmbitions campaign will recognize the incredible role that women play in the business landscape. Through this initiative, we aim to amplify their voices, share their inspiring stories, and build a supportive community that celebrates the power of women in business.”

The second iteration of the TikTok Creator Hub will unfold in three dynamic stages. In Phase 1, the initiative will be launched in-app, marked by the #HerAmbitions hashtag and a compelling video showcasing inspiring female entrepreneurs and creators. Participants will present an elevator pitch of their businesses, and TikTok users will cast votes for their favourite entrepreneurs.

Moving on to Phase 2, live workshops and panels will take centre stage, featuring members of the judging panel such as Karen Wazen, Chahrazad Al Hajjar, and Doaa Gawish, along with renowned industry experts. These sessions will provide participants with insights, advice, and guidance to enhance their skills. The live-streamed discussions on TikTok’s official accounts will delve into the transformative potential of content creation in boosting career prospects, unlocking new opportunities, and strengthening personal branding. The panels will emphasize the crucial role of leveraging social media platforms to showcase professional achievements, build connections with peers and industry leaders, and establish a powerful online presence for female entrepreneurs.

In the grand finale stage, a closing ceremony is scheduled for February in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Finalists will present their businesses for evaluation by the judging panel, with monetary prizes at stake. The first-place winner will receive US $10,000, while second and third places will each be awarded US $5,000.

To showcase the platform’s utility and contribution to the creator economy, the second TikTok Creator Hub is poised to uplift female business creators in the region. It marks a new era in the digital content economy in the MENA region, playing a crucial role in enabling and upskilling users.

The TikTok Creator Hub was initially launched in 2022, with last year’s program focused on Climate Change, unlocking numerous opportunities for new talents and contributing to the region’s growing creative economy through a similar competition format.

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Genshin Impact to Launch Version 4.3 This Month

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HoYoverse today announced that Genshin Impact Version 4.3 “Roses and Muskets” will arrive on December 20. With Fontaine’s major crisis resolved, Version 4.3 will slow down the pace of adventure and celebrate one of Fontaine’s most important traditions, the Fontinalia Festival.

In addition, Navia, the president of Spina di Rosula, and Chevreuse, the captain of the Special Security and Surveillance Patrol, will join as playable characters. Meanwhile, a series of updates and optimizations will also be added in Version 4.3.

This year, the Fontinalia Festival will be celebrated with a unique film festival, which will not only feature joyful and fun festivities but will also honor the tradition of commemorating the legendary Lochknights, who welcomed the previous Hydro Archon Egeria to Fontaine. Under the leadership of Furina, an unexpected team composed of the Kamisato siblings, the Traveler and the renowned fashion designer of the Chioriya Boutique, Chiori, will come together to work on a film.

In addition, the Fontinalia Festival will also offer a series of mini-games, such as designing a short film with different camera angles and narrations in “Into the Frame,” as well as shooting training in a marksmanship-themed gameplay mode. By winning Theater Tickets during these events, players will be able to obtain various festive rewards, including the 4-star claymore “Ultimate Overlord’s Mega Magic Sword.”

In this festive atmosphere, two firearm enthusiasts, Navia and Chevreuse, will join the game as playable characters. Renowned as the president of Spina di Rosula, Navia, a 5-star Geo claymore wielder, is capable of firing “Rosula Shardshots” from her elegant yet lethal gunbrella. The number of shots is determined by “Crystal Shrapnel,” which is accumulated either by obtaining Elemental Shards from Crystallize reactions or her Elemental Burst. Navia’s Elemental Burst also deals solid AOE Geo damage by bombarding her enemies.

Another firearms professional, Chevreuse, will join the team as a new 4-star Pyro polearm wielder. As captain of the Special Security and Surveillance Patrol, Chevreuse can fire bullets with her musket that deal AoE Pyro damage and look out for the team by healing the active character with her Elemental Skill. She can provide more firepower with an explosive grenade, which can split into multiple secondary explosive shells on impact. In the Event Wishes of Version 4.3, Navia’s debut and Kamisato Ayaka’s rerun will be featured in the first half, while Chevreuse will arrive in the second half together with reruns of the Raiden Shogun and Yoimiya.

Some permanent gameplay modes and limited-time events will also be updated with new features and rewards. Genius Invokation TCG will receive a major update with more cards, NPCs that can be challenged, and a limited-time Heated Battle Mode.

A new Fontaine-style realm layout will be available inside the Serenitea Pot. Apart from that, Itto’s Beetle Battle event and Liben’s daily requests will return with various exciting features and abundant rewards.

In addition, travelling in Teyvat will become even smoother thanks to numerous optimizations. The “one-click function” will soon be released, and Travelers can collect rewards from expeditions as well as repeat them, as well as collect processed ingredients and forged items.

Players will also be able to lock or unlock Artifacts in batches, as well as automatically lock existing or new Artifacts that match the filter specifications. Additionally, players will also be able to see how other active players choose Artifact Sets for a given character via Artifact Set Recommendations.

Genshin Impact Version 4.3 will be arriving on December 20. With cross-progression and Co-Op functions, players can enjoy their adventure across PlayStation®, PC, Android, and iOS. The game has been rated T for Teen by ESRB on PS5, PS4, PC, and Google Play, and 12+ on iOS.

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