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Three Ways to Avoid Getting Your Phone Hacked



Written by Haider Pasha, Chief Security Officer, MEA, Palo Alto Networks

You have probably seen in the news that high-net-worth individuals, famous athletes, and entertainers are becoming favourite targets of phone hacking. In some cases, when security experts can’t agree, it’s because mobile device forensics is very limited to even confirm that someone has been compromised and reconstruct what exactly happened.    

For business executives, it’s high time to pay attention to mobile security. The last thing you’d want is to be personally embarrassed or professionally compromised. Mobile phones are becoming a fruitful and surprisingly easy target for hackers. It used to be that businesses issued their executives work phones that used only business applications. But today, our phones are just as likely to hold intellectual property memos as they are to be used for listening to music.

Hackers started by looking for salacious photos and embarrassing text messages, but now they’ve moved to mobile malware, ransomware and identity theft aimed at penetrating corporate networks and exfiltrating mission-critical data held on the phones of CEOs, board members and political leaders.

Let’s be clear: Your organization’s most sensitive and proprietary data is at risk, in large part because you are routinely accessing it through your mobile phone. And the hackers know it. We must recognize the magnitude and potential impact of this problem and take decisive steps to bolster our cyber defense.

Mobile Phone Security Threats Are Evolving
When we rely on our mobile phones for work tasks, we expand the cybersecurity threat landscape. This is critical to acknowledge because most organizations not only lack a proper understanding of mobile phone threats but also lack experienced personnel to address the problem with anything more than basic mobile device management tools.

There are two big challenges associated with mobile cybersecurity threats:

  • The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing. The sheer number of applications we can use on our phones is exploding. Apple and Google are doing excellent work with securing their operating systems, but securing third-party applications remains a big challenge. We’ve added a lot of functionality to our phones, but much of those added features have made it far easier for bad actors to access things like our work contacts and their phone numbers. As hackers work their way into our phones through fraudulent applications that suddenly develop a second life or exploiting vulnerabilities in common applications like WhatsApp, it’s not a big leap to installing professional malware for jailbreaking, espionage, ransomware or data exfiltration.
  • No Place Left to Hide. I’ll spare you the technical details, but keep in mind that mobile networks rely on vulnerable roaming protocols like SS7 or Diameter, which are easy targets for cyber threats. Simply having access to your phone number allows hackers with a little investment to trace your location quite easily … or even to take over your incoming calls or text/SMS or WhatsApp messages. These attack methods have been used for a long time, not only for professional espionage but also for large-scale online banking fraud. This is also the reason why banks don’t consider SMS as a secured two-factor authentication approach anymore. All in all, it’s very difficult to protect yourself against location tracking or phone or SMS takeover attacks.

But, the good news is that the state of mobile phone cybersecurity is not as bleak as it sounds from the press. Today’s mobile phones, at the device level, have strong security architectures. The ecosystems for the most popular phones—Apple iPhone and Google Android—are highly secure, with strong hardware-based security and isolation approaches. And, unlike other software exploits, exploit code to compromise a mobile device without your interaction would cost attackers millions. A hacker has to make a huge investment if he wants to compromise your mobile phone in order to exfiltrate your data.

Still, are you going to take a chance on exposing your enterprise’s most critical data due to lax cybersecurity frameworks and practices? Of course not.

What You Can Do Now
There are three strong steps all business leaders can and should do now in order to harden their phones’ defenses:

  1. Security hygiene. We’re all busy at work and ensuring that our mobile phones and apps have the latest patches may not be our top priority. But, if you’re a heavy user of your phone for business, you have to make sure it has the most up-to-date security. Also, antivirus for mobile phones is a myth. Compared to our computers, an anti-virus app on a mobile phone will often not be able to protect against malicious apps. The reason is that the hardware-based architecture of the mobile phone forces every app to be isolated from each other. However, one security control that is often overlooked on mobile devices is network security. Instead of routing all your insecurely to the Internet, you can use a secure VPN or Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) solution. Such a solution can block traffic to malicious websites or data exfiltration attempts.
  2. Application hygiene. Any application on your phone can expose data and be used as a bridge to compromise your device. Whitelisting and blacklisting applications are now becoming standard practice for IT and security administrators, and you should follow these practices on your own phone as well. For instance, do you really need those five messenger applications? Are you automatically downloading content across social media applications? Do your kids or grandchildren use your phone and download games?
  3. Privacy hygiene. I know this will sound like the lecture you got from your parents many years ago, but here goes: Don’t give out personal information, especially your phone number, to strangers. Having just your phone number will allow cybercriminals to trace you, physically and electronically, everywhere in the world. And remember that your colleagues, suppliers, and customers store your number and other contact details on their phones as well. And this data can be easily exfiltrated by fraudulent applications installed on their phones to expose your number.

The more you use your phone for work reasons, the greater you expand cybersecurity threat vectors into your organization’s applications, databases, and data. It’s like opening the door of your factory-wide open and handing strangers an access card to your mainframe and robotics equipment. It can only end badly.

As an executive, you should follow these best practices personally, but also support the deployment and administration of sound mobile phone cybersecurity processes for all employees. You are in a unique, powerful position to send the right message to your colleagues and subordinates. Your phone is every bit as much a computer as any desktop, notebook or server. Protect it accordingly.

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Top 10 Steps to Securing Your New Computer



Written by Phil Muncaster, guest writer at ESET

With Windows 11 making headlines for all the right reasons, it could be a great time to invest in a new PC for the family or the home office. But any new household computing device should come with an attendant safety warning. Hackers will be after your data the minute it’s connected to the internet. And they have numerous ways to get it.

That’s why you need to think about cybersecurity even before plugging your machine in and switching it on. Take time out now to refresh your memory and make cyber-hygiene a number one priority.

What are the main threats to my PC?
As soon as you’re connected to the internet, malicious actors will be looking to steal your data, encrypt and hold your machine ransom, lift financial details, secretly mine for cryptocurrency, and much more. They’ll do so via some tried and true methods, which often rely on cracking, stealing or guessing passwords, or exploiting software vulnerabilities. Top threats include:

Phishing: One of the oldest con tricks in the book. Cybercriminals masquerade as legitimate and trustworthy sources (banks, tech providers, retailers, etc) and try to persuade users into clicking on links and/or open attachments in emails. Doing so will take users to a spoofed site requesting that they fill in personal information (like logins and/or address/financial details) or could trigger a covert malware download.

Drive-by downloads and malicious ads: Sometimes merely visiting an infested website or a site running a malicious ad could trigger a malware download. We may think that well-known sites may be less compromised in this way as they are better resourced and can afford enhanced protection. But there have been plenty of counter-example through the years showing that it’s not always the case. That’s why its essential to invest in security software from a reputable provider and ensure that your browser’s security settings are correct.

Digital skimming: Hackers may also compromise the payment pages of e-commerce sites with malware designed to silently harvest your card data as it is entered. This is difficult to guard against as the issue is with the provider. However, shopping with better-known sites can reduce risk.

Malicious apps and files: Cybercriminals also hide malware inside legitimate-looking applications and downloads. Many of these are posted to online forums, P2P sites, and other third-party platforms. That’s why it makes sense to download only from trusted sources, and to use an effective security software tool to scan for malicious software.

Ten tips to keep your computer safe
Many of the below steps may be taken care of automatically by your PC manufacturer/Microsoft, but it pays to dig a little deeper to make sure all the settings are as secure as you need them to be. Here are our top 10 tips for computer safety:

  1. Apply automatic updates for the OS and any software running on the PC
  2. Remove bloatware that often comes with PCs. Check beforehand if you don’t recognize any software to ensure removing it won’t degrade the performance. The fewer pieces of software on the machine, the less opportunity for attackers to exploit bugs in it
  3. Install multi-layered security software from a reputable third-party vendor and keep it up to date
  4. Configure backups, and ideally back up a copy of data to a remote storage device kept offline
  5. Secure the browser by adjusting privacy and security settings and ensuring it is on the latest version
  6. Switch on and configure your firewall on the OS and home router, ensuring it is protected with a strong password
  7. Download a multi-factor authentication app in order to help protect your accounts from being hijacked via phishing and other attacks
  8. Avoid using USBs that you don’t own, in case they are loaded with malware
  9. Use a password manager to ensure that all your credentials are unique, strong, and hard-to-crack
  10. Only download apps/files from trusted sources and avoid pirated material, which can often be booby-trapped with malware

It goes without saying that, even by following these best practices, you could still be at risk when browsing online. Always proceed with caution, don’t reply to unsolicited emails/online messages, and ensure device encryption is switched on.

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Why You Should Use a VPN While Traveling



According to a survey conducted by NordVPN, 50% of travellers use public Wi-Fi while on the road. However, only 20% of them use a VPN (a virtual private network) to protect themselves while being connected to a public network. “Travelers connect to public Wi-Fi in airports, cafes, parks, and trains. Some even use public computers to print their visa information or flight tickets. A VPN in those cases is crucial if you want to make sure that your vacation will not be ruined by cyber criminals. Nobody wants to lose access to their device or their bank account during a trip to a foreign country,” says Daniel Markuson, a cybersecurity expert at NordVPN.

As International VPN day (August 19th) is just around the corner, Markuson lists all the benefits offered by the service.

Enhanced online security
The main purpose of a VPN is to keep its user’s online connection secure even when they are away from home. Hackers can set up fake hotspots or access unsecured public routers and this way monitor users’ online activity. Once a user is connected, criminals can intercept their internet traffic, infect the device with malware, and steal their victim’s personal information.

When authenticating themselves on public Wi-Fi, users often need to type in their email address or phone number. However, if a user has accidentally connected to a hacker’s hotspot, they could be exposing themselves to real danger.

A VPN hides users’ IP addresses and encrypts their online activity. That means that, even if a user is using a malicious hotspot, the hacker behind it won’t be able to monitor their activity. Therefore, getting a VPN for travelling abroad is essential if you want to stay secure and private online.

Grab the best deals
Depending on the country in which you’re located, the prices for airline tickets, car reservations, and hotels might vary. That’s because businesses know that people in different countries can and will pay higher amounts for certain products and services. If you use a VPN for travel, you can hop between servers in different countries and find the best deals available.

Make the best of additional VPN features
As the industry is evolving, many VPN providers add new features to make their users’ experience even more wholesome. NordVPN, for example, recently added the Meshnet feature that lets travellers connect to other devices directly no matter where in the world they are. This enables users to form a remote connection with their home or office PC from anywhere in the world to share files or for other uses.

However, having said that, please check local laws and regulations about using VPN services on your devices, before you do.

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Social Media Data Leaks Account for 41% of All Records Breached



Written by Edward G, Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN

Social media is quickly turning into a primary security weak point. A single data breach within one of the major social media networks can result in millions of records being stolen. Within the past few years, we have seen multiple large-scale data breaches involving companies like Facebook and Twitter. Yet, we rarely see the bigger picture.

Luckily, data presented by Atlas VPN gives insight into the scope of the issue. It turns out that 41% of all compromised records in 2021 originated from social media data leaks, which is a significant upsurge compared to 25% in 2020. The data presented is based on the 2022 ForgeRock Consumer Identity Breach Report, which gathered data from various sources, such as 2021 Identity Theft Resource Center, IBM Ponemon, TechCrunch, Forrester Research, as well as UpGuard, and IdentityForce.

A few other factors make social media a security weak point within the current online landscape. First, criminals can prey on business clients by posing as the company in order to obtain credentials. This is becoming especially prevalent since companies increasingly use social networks to communicate with customers.

Second, fraudsters frequently attempt to infiltrate businesses by leveraging mutual connections, which create a false sense of security. Moreover, people who overshare on social media make it simple for thieves to locate personal information that aids in company breaches.

Besides social networks, another major source of leaked information is the retail sector, which accounted for nearly a quarter of all records breached in 2021. According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Retail Indicator Division, e-commerce sales increased by 50% during the pandemic. Retail data breaches increased in frequency and severity during the same period.

While the average cost of a retail breach was $2.01 million in 2020, it increased by 63% to $3.27 million in 2021. Customer credit card, payment information, and personal data were the principal targets of retail data breaches. E-commerce websites and applications sometimes skip security precautions like two-factor authentication (2-FA) as they seek a simple user experience.

When the enormous volumes of personal data that retail websites collect are not adequately protected, it creates the ideal environment for breaches and subsequent fraud. Finally, the healthcare sector is worth mentioning with only 1% of records, yet, at the same time, the information leaked is usually particularly sensitive.

Data compromised from healthcare institutions tend to include name, address, SSN, date of birth, and, in two-thirds of the breaches, actual medical history information. With this information in hand, cybercriminals can blackmail companies or even particular individuals.

To round up the findings, it’s obvious that retail and social media companies should go the extra mile in securing their customer information. In addition, even though healthcare providers leak only a fraction of the data, they should still safeguard their client data with particular care due to the sensitive nature of the information.

Some services offer data breach monitoring tools. Data breach monitors track any data breaches related to your online accounts. It automatically scans leaked databases and informs you of any past or recent breaches where your personal information was exposed.

As always, we must mention the most effective countermeasure against data leaks. It is advised to enable multi-factor authentication on all of your accounts that offer the functionality. This way, even if your credentials are compromised, threat actors will not be able to access your account unless you lose your phone, and it is also found by ill-meaning individuals, which is less than likely.

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