What’s up with Whatsapp?

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You may have seen the numerous press articles this week advising you to update your Whatsapp. The advice came from Whatsapp, which has 1.5 billion users and is owned by Facebook.

The reason for asking people to update the app on their smartphones was the discovery that hackers had been able to remotely install surveillance software on phones via a “major vulnerability” in the app. According to the BBC, WhatsApp said the attack targeted a “select number” of users and was orchestrated by “an advanced cyber-actor”.

Facebook discovered the flaw in the technology earlier this month. It threatened to break Whatsapp’s promise to its users of being a secure” communications app with messages that are end-to-end encrypted. This means they should only be displayed in a legible form on the sender or recipient’s device. However, the surveillance software would have let an attacker read the messages on the target’s device.

The Whatsapp team found a fix for the problem last Friday, after which people could download the new app without the ‘bug’, although some users appeared to be disgruntled that Facebook hadn’t published any notes about the fix itself.

It is likely that those whose phones may have been targeted by the hackers are “Journalists, lawyers, activists and human rights defenders,” Ahmed Zidan of the Committee to Protect Journalists told the BBC.

How did hackers use the security flaw?

One thing they did was use Whatsapp’s voice call function to ring a target’s phone. Even if the target didn’t answer the call, the surveillance software was installed on their phone. Furthermore, the call was removed from the call log, so the person who didn’t answer it, wouldn’t even see that they had missed a call from an unknown number.

Facebook and Whatsapp told the press on Monday: “The attack has all the hallmarks of a private company reportedly that works with governments to deliver spyware that takes over the functions of mobile phone operating systems.”

It also issued a briefing to security specialists stating, “”A buffer overflow vulnerability in WhatsApp VOIP [voice over internet protocol] stack allowed remote code execution via specially crafted series of SRTCP [secure real-time transport protocol] packets sent to a target phone number.”

The attack was old-fashioned

As Professor Alan Woodward pointed out, this is a “pretty old-fashioned” method of attack. He explained what happened: “A buffer overflow is where a program runs into memory it should not have access to. It overflows the memory it should have and hence has access to memory in which malicious code can potentially be run. If you are able to pass some code through the app, you can run your own code in that area. In VOIP there is an initial process that dials up and establishes the call, and the flaw was in that bit. Consequently you did not need to answer the call for the attack to work.”

We don’t know how many people were targeted in this attack, and there are some questions that remain to be answered about whether updating the app on your phone effectively removes the spyware in its entirety. Furthermore, WhatsApp has not said whether the attack could extend beyond WhatsApp and reach other personal data on the phone.

But, even if you are not a journalist, a lawyer or a human rights activist, download the new version of the app, because as always it is better to be safe than sorry.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Rise AI-based app for crypto trading

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Removing volatility from the cryptocurrency market would most likely make it a more attractive mainstream investment. That is the hope of Rise, a fintech software company based in Germany. It plans to use its artificial intelligence (AI)  trading technology in the cryptocurrency markets in a way that will allow users to trade across multiple exchanges.

Currently, Rise algorithms are being used in stock markets, forex and commodities trading and since its foundation in 2012 it has grown its user base, with in excess of $50 million in assets under management. Hedge funds and insurance companies are among the big financial institutions using its products. More importantly, its consumer facing app, UpTick, which is focused on cryptocurrency, has been downloaded 100,000 times since it became available.

Its white paper explains: “The playing field is being levelled for all who join Rise, as well as bolstering the cryptocurrency market itself with data-driven investment strategies that are free of emotional human bias, ignore hype, and avoid the pump and dump marketing or boom and bust cycles that inevitably bring unnecessary risk to the market.”

Rise also believes that human traders looking to make a profit from cryptocurrencies are pretty much running out of time. The firm believes that this sector will go the way of the traditional stock market, where gains are primarily made by using “machines to which access is restricted to a small population of the uber-wealthy.” The Rise app will bring more democracy to the crypto trading environment and enable small investors to participate.

AI in the Rise app

This detailed explanation of how AI will be used in the app comes from the whitepaper (see link above): “In addition to trading manually on multiple crypto exchanges, the Rise platform will also allow users to subscribe to automated trading strategies with Autopilot, powered by the Rise AI. Users will be able to choose algorithms across a variety of risk classes, pick an allocation across any of their connected exchanges and then enable the Rise engine to automatically execute trades. A key feature is that users’ funds will never leave their wallet, which will allow for full control and protection of assets. Users can track returns and start, stop or pause algorithms at any time, directly via the application. Furthermore, users are able to define custom stop-loss levels for each algorithm to match each user’s individual risk preference. The vision with Autopilot is to become the trusted, automated trading companion that allows users to invest like the sophisticated trading elite, right on their mobile phone. “

Rise has a strong team with a competitive edge, so no wonder the company is upbeat about its forthcoming STO in November. What is more we won’t have to wait very long to use the AI-based Rise app – it is launching in the first quarter of 2019.

Every search you make…is being watched

That moment when we all went out and bought smartphones was a game changer for our personal privacy as Tyler Elliott Bettilyon discusses on Medium.

We never imagined at the time how these expensive gadgets would impact on our lives; all we could see that they made our lives easier, but at what cost?

In China, surveillance apparatus is increasingly sophisticated. There is facial recognition technology connected to CCTV cameras and police officers will soon have cameras inside their sunglasses. There may also be drones disguised as birds. Worse still, Chinese citizens are being asked (demanded) to install software in their phones that tracks their downloads and if you’re Chinese and visit a site banned by the government, you lose points from your “social credit score.”

But that’s China, you’re probably thinking. This is a Communist regime that has always controlled how people act and think. It isn’t like that in more democratic countries. Unfortunately the response to that is, “Don’t be so sure.”

Take a look at the surveillance tools the USA has. The NSA’s PRISMprogramme collects masses of data about internet traffic — including yours! That’s why Edward Snowdon blew the whistle on it and revealed how the NSA might be breaking the rules of privacy.

And Europe is no more private. It also has an array of online surveillance tools that it uses in the name of ‘security’. And if you keep sending out the message that we are all in danger, then the citizens of Europe give governments a free pass to collect whatever data they want. They don’t consciously allow it; they passively accept it.

And, online censorship is on the rise as the world becomes more authoritarian. A 2017 report Freedom on the Net details how our freedoms are being curbed year after year. It says: “Nearly half of the 65 countries assessed in Freedom on the Net 2017 experienced declines during the coverage period, while just 13 made gains, most of them minor. Less than one-quarter of users reside in countries where the internet is designated Free, meaning there are no major obstacles to access, onerous restrictions on content, or serious violations of user rights in the form of unchecked surveillance or unjust repercussions for legitimate speech.”

But it isn’t just governments that are watching you; it’s Facebook, Google and the like who are analysing your every move in order to push adverts at you. The Cambridge Analytica scandal showed us how the data they collect can be ‘weaponised’ for political ends.

Perhaps you are very security conscious about your personal data and take all the recommended steps (and more) to protect yourself. But, the web has many vulnerable points you may pass through without your knowledge and that leaves you exposed. These include your friends keeping texts from you, photos of you taken by friends stored on Facebook and Google keeping track of your search history. Yes, you can turn Google tracking off — if you can actually find where to do that. However, ultimately the only way to stay secure is never to send your data via the internet. Or, get yourself a Tor browser. This is a system that attempts to hide source and destination IP addresses by using several proxies. And even then there are still vulnerabilities.

Finally, personal actions to protect our personal data will never be enough: it will require collective action to overcome the Big Brother machinations of the large agencies like the NSA. Bringing the issues to the attention of more internet users is vital to achieve this, then perhaps we can start to solve the problem and pack up our paranoia.

Mobile Technology Trends of 2017

The development of mobile technology continues to move at speed and this year we have seen some critical new applications, so much so, that I believe 2017 will be seen as the benchmark year for mobile technology, especially in its use by small businesses.

There have been some outstanding apps developed by consumer brands like Subway and Starbucks, and this opens the way for less well-known businesses to do the same. In fact, I read that 50% of small businesses are creating a mobile app this year and that is a great indication of the importance they place on mobile for growing a company.

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Location, location

Another trend that has grown impressively this year is that of location-based apps. These allow a business to offer a service based on the customer’s location and it is not difficult to foresee that the ability to offer real-time services in a specific location will have an impact on a variety of small businesses, and the larger ones.

Augmented reality

Augmented reality apps are another trend that is gaining traction. Some people thought these were just a gimmick, but when you combine the AR technology with a utility app, in other words one that is practical and useful, you have an app that is very engaging. They particularly appeal to the millennial generation and businesses that work on using augmented reality will have better engagement with customers in this group.

Instant apps are a winner

I also see that instant apps are becoming more important, for obvious reasons. There is no need to find the app and download it, install it and all the rest. The apps that run instantly when needed and are the secret of a faster, simpler mobile experience. Google’s new technology is leading this sector.

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) is also making inroads in mobile apps. A number of developers are embedding it in their apps, which is a significant step forward for educational apps. For example, apps that teach children based on how that child learns are emerging. All children have different learning styles and these apps will help them to achieve even better exam results. It can also be applied to consumer shopping with the creation of apps that help you to shop based on what you like, so that the consumer would essentially have a personal shopper on their mobile device.

Remote control

We are also seeing more gadgets and household equipment being linked to the Internet and this requires apps to control them remotely. This is another trend that will boost the growth in mobile technology. And, security is another factor that developers are working on this year, as our mobile devices become increasingly storage devices for money and its equivalent.

It has been predicted that around 268 million mobile apps will be downloaded by the end of 2107 and this translates into $77 billion in business revenue. This sum doesn’t just come from purchasing apps; it is revenue that is also based on increased sales through improved customer engagement and loyalty. This is the secret of growth and why businesses should be adopting mobile technology as soon as possible.