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New Study Reveals Phone Apps Could Be Hiding Spyware That Can Leak Personal Data

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A new study has found that apps on your phone could be utilizing spyware to steal and leak your personal data. The study, which was conducted by computer scientists from New York University and the University of California San Diego, focused on the hidden dangers of spyware apps.

These apps may be challenging to find, and they may also unknowingly disclose your private information. The researchers issued a warning, advising smartphone users to be aware of this problem and take precautions to safeguard their privacy.

They see you: The dangers of spyware apps

The paper’s first author, Enze Alex Liu, cautioned that spyware applications are a “real-life problem.” The group, according to Liu, wished to “raise awareness for everyone, from victims to the research community.”

Spyware apps are frequently promoted as tools to keep track of children’s or employees’ online activity, but they can also be used by abusers to watch their partners.

Spyware applications are made to capture any activity on a victim’s device, including text messages, emails, phone calls, and images. Through a web interface, abusers can remotely access this data.

The use of spyware programs has been increasing, according to experts, with a notable spike in downloads and usage over the past few years.

Check your privacy dashboard and the list of all your installed apps in the settings of the device if you suspect that your phone or other device has been infected with spyware. However, these applications can occasionally be challenging to find because they are made with concealment in mind.

The study’s analysis of 14 popular spyware apps for Android phones was the primary focus of the researchers.

These apps cannot be purchased on Google’s official app store, but you may still download them individually from the internet. The lack of “side-loading” functionality on iPhones reduces the prevalence of spyware software on Apple cellphones.

Decoding spyware apps

Spyware apps run secretly on a device and it can collect a range of sensitive information like your location data, text messages and calls. These apps can even collect audio and video recordings.

A few spyware programs also offer live audio and video streaming. All of this information is subsequently transmitted to the abuser via the designated web spyware gateway.

The researchers discovered that spyware programs employ a variety of methods to gather user data covertly.Some apps even have the ability to send live video from the device’s camera to the spyware server using covert browsers.

Other applications use the device’s microphone or speaker to record phone calls. Some apps may utilize accessibility features intended for users who are blind or visually impaired to record keystrokes and other private data from users.

On your smartphone, spyware applications can also “hide” themselves. They have two options: either they don’t show up in the app launcher, or they pose as benign icons like “Wi-Fi.”

Several apps will execute these orders regardless of the source, and some apps will take commands over SMS messages. In dire circumstances, a hacker is capable of remotely wiping the victim’s phone.

Data security is still another important issue.Many spyware programs communicate the data they have obtained through unencrypted connections, leaving them open to being intercepted by other hackers.

Some apps keep this information in publicly accessible URLs, making it available to anybody with the link. Other applications will continue to save private information even after you deactivate your account or stop using them.

How to protect yourself from spyware

The researchers cautioned that in order to prevent app icons from hiding on your smartphone, Android devices must enforce stronger restrictions for app icons. Additionally, they advise creating a dashboard so you can quickly keep an eye on programs that launch automatically.

In order to warn users if someone is attempting to record them, the researchers also recommended adding a visible indicator to the user when the microphone or camera is being used by an app.

The impacted app vendors have previously been informed of the researchers’ findings, but they haven’t yet responded. The study team made the decision to restrict access to their work to those who can prove a valid need for it in order to prevent misuse.

It takes a team effort from all parties involved, including users, smartphone makers, app shops, and law enforcement organizations, to effectively protect consumers against spyware.

As smartphone users, you must stay vigilant and take steps to protect your privacy.

Here are some tips that will help protect your device from spyware:

Download apps from official app stores

Never download applications from untrusted or unauthorized websites.

Use the Apple App Store or Google Play Store to download apps. Strict security controls are implemented by official app stores to reduce the possibility of programs containing spyware.

Review app permissions

Check the permissions asked during installation when downloading a new app.

If an app requests extra permissions that don’t seem to be necessary for its functionality, look over the app again. An app may be spyware if it demands access to your camera, microphone, or other sensitive data without a valid justification from you while having nothing to do with taking movies or images.

Update your device regularly 

It’s best to keep your smartphone’s operating system (OS) and apps up to date. Developers release regular updates to fix security vulnerabilities and enhance overall device security.

Updating your apps and phone OS can help ensure that your smartphone has the latest security patches to protect against potential spyware threats.

Regularly review app permissions

Regularly review the permissions granted to all apps installed on your device. Revoke unnecessary permissions for apps that do not require access to certain data or functions.

Limit app permissions to minimize the risk of unauthorized access to your personal information.

Download antivirus software

Protect your data with antivirus software from the official app store.

Trusted antivirus or anti-malware software will scan your device for any malicious software, including spyware and provide real-time protection against potential threats.

Check app reviews before downloading

After an app catches your eye, make sure it’s safe to download by reviewing recent app reviews and ratings.

Watch out for suspicious or negative reviews that mention privacy concerns or unusual behavior. This will help you make informed decisions about which apps to trust, especially if they are promising features that seem too good to be true.

Use strong passwords

Secure your smartphone with a strong password, PIN or biometric authentication.

Strong passwords will add an extra layer of protection, making it more difficult for unauthorized individuals to install spyware or gain access to your device without your permission.

Do not use open Wi-Fi networks

Connecting to open Wi-Fi networks that do not require a password or use encryption may seem convenient if you need an internet connection, but this can also risk your data.

Open Wi-Fi networks can be used to spy on all of your online activity. Worse, a cybercriminal can create a fake Wi-Fi hotspot to fool users to connect to it and steal their data.

For example, instead of taking you to your bank’s website, the open Wi-Fi network could direct you to a page that looks similar. But the fake website will steal your password when you try to log in.

Protect your online privacy and data by only connecting to secure Wi-Fi access points that you know and trust. Don’t just connect to anything you find, especially if it’s an open network.

Malicious apps

Like the Trojan Horse trick in Greek mythology, malicious apps might seem beneficial, such as offering free access to something that should cost money. But they actually contain a virus.

After installing them, your entire smartphone could be locked. Hackers might also use malicious apps to steal your data and threaten you for money.

Sometimes, the virus might secretly transfer money to a hacker’s account via your phone’s online banking app.

The best way to prevent these attacks is to avoid these malicious apps in the first place.

Do not download apps that promise free access to premium content and avoid apps that aren’t available in official app stores.

Educate yourself 

Check trusted sources for detailed updates about the latest spyware threats and share this information with your loved ones.

Raising awareness about the dangers of spyware can help create a safer digital environment for everyone.

Your privacy is valuable, and taking steps to protect it is essential in today’s digital age. Follow these tips and stay informed to protect against spyware and secure your personal information.

SOURCE: https://studyfinds.org/is-your-phone-spying-on-you/

The study conducted by computer scientists from New York University and the University of California San Diego, focused on the hidden dangers of spyware apps.

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Florida Prepares to Ban Bill Gates’ Lab-Grown ‘Meat’

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Florida lawmakers are making strides to prohibit the sale of lab-grown “meat” products within the state, driven by mounting safety apprehensions surrounding synthetic meat alternatives. Spearheaded by Bill HB 1071, these legislative efforts aim to define and restrict the distribution of “cultivated meat,” which encompasses any meat or food product derived from cultured animal cells.

Under the proposed legislation, individuals found manufacturing, selling, or distributing cultivated meat would face misdemeanor charges, with food establishments risking disciplinary actions and potential license suspensions for non-compliance.

The impetus for the ban comes amidst heightened scrutiny over the safety and viability of lab-grown meat, particularly as Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates champions significant investments into its development. While proponents of synthetic meat tout its potential as a sustainable and ethical alternative to traditional agriculture, concerns regarding its safety profile and long-term health implications have prompted Florida legislators to take decisive action.

The bills, including the Senate counterpart SB 1084, have garnered support from conventional agricultural sectors while encountering opposition from researchers and investors invested in lab-grown meat technology. Critics contend that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has already sanctioned the consumption of lab-grown meat, pointing to approvals granted to California-based companies like Upside Foods (formerly Memphis Meats) and Good Meat. Nevertheless, the Florida Cattlemen’s Association stands firmly behind the proposed ban, reflecting broader industry sentiments aligned with safeguarding traditional agricultural practices.

Despite assertions from supporters that lab-grown meat offers a pragmatic solution to escalating concerns surrounding food safety and dwindling farmland, dissenting voices caution against its potential risks. Notably, concerns persist regarding the genetic engineering of cells and the emergence of cancer-promoting properties within lab-grown meat, as highlighted by the Center for Food Safety. Furthermore, uncertainties persist regarding the sterility of lab-grown meat production processes and the absence of adequate pathogenic control mechanisms, raising apprehensions about potential health hazards associated with consumption.

The legislative developments in Florida resonate with broader efforts across the United States to address the proliferation of lab-grown meat products. Recently, the Alabama Senate passed legislation prohibiting the sale and manufacture of lab-grown meat, underscoring a growing trend towards regulatory intervention in the realm of alternative protein sources. Additionally, federal initiatives, such as the proposed “School Lunch Integrity Act,” seek to preemptively ban lab-grown meat from government-sponsored meal programs, citing concerns over nutritional quality and allergen research.

As Florida lawmakers navigate the complexities surrounding lab-grown meat regulation, the debate underscores broader societal tensions surrounding food production, consumer safety, and the ethical considerations inherent in technological advancements. While the fate of lab-grown meat remains uncertain within Florida and beyond, the discourse surrounding its regulation underscores the need for informed policymaking and continued dialogue among stakeholders invested in shaping the future of food production and consumption.

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Texas Attor­ney Gen­er­al Ken Pax­ton Wins $700 Mil­lion Set­tle­ment with Google for Anti­com­pet­i­tive Practices

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Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, together with attorneys general from every state and many territories, have reached a $700 million settlement with Google for their anticompetitive behavior related to the Google Play Store.

Google has been ordered to pay $630 million in reparations to customers who purchased on the Google Play Store between August 2016 and September 2023 who were injured by Google’s anticompetitive actions. In addition, the internet behemoth will pay the states an extra $70 million in fines. The deal also compels Google to improve its business operations in order to reduce its unfair market advantage over other firms and consumers.

In 2021, a group of state attorneys general sued Google for illegally monopolizing the market for Android app distribution and in-app payment processing. Google, in particular, entered into anticompetitive arrangements to prohibit other app shops from being installed on Android devices, bribed important app developers not to launch items on competitor app stores, and erected technical obstacles to discourage users from directly downloading apps to their devices.

“Texas has led the nation in the fight to hold giant tech companies accountable for monopolistic activity,” said Attorney General Paxton. “I am proud that this settlement brought together so many states who recognized the importance of protecting free markets.”

To read the settlement, click here.

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PIZZAGATE: Ex-Meta workers confirm encrypted tech let ‘millions of pedophiles target kids’

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Earlier this month, Meta introduced encryption for direct communications on Facebook and Instagram in order to preserve users’ privacy.

Encrypted communications are used to prevent anybody other than the sender and recipient from reading the communication’s contents.

The unveiling occurred four years after the project was first revealed — and it had been a significant source of conflict inside the firm. Former Meta engineering director David Erb left in 2019 in protest of the project, he just told the Wall Street Journal.

While at Meta, Erb expressed his concern to superiors that encrypting direct messages on Facebook would shield predators who preyed upon children, but they didn’t listen.

Critics fear that would-be pedophiles can track down children through Facebook’s “People You May Know” feature, which offers suggestions of possible friends who can be added through an online social circle.

“It was a hundred times worse than any of us expected,” Erb told the Journal. “There were millions of pedophiles targeting tens of millions of children.”

In May 2020, Karl Quitter, a Chicago-area man, used an alias, “Mathew Jones,” to solicit sexually explicit photos and videos of at least nine teenage girls based in the Philippines via Facebook. Quitter preyed on the victims’ financial difficulties, using money transfers to the victims’ families to entice the girls to take the sexually explicit images. In a message to one 16-year-old victim in 2020, Quitter promised to send money to her family for medicine and food if she complied with his demands. Facebook investigators flagged Quitter’s messages and turned them over to authorities, according to the Journal. Quitter, 58, pleaded guilty in federal court to sexually exploiting children and was sentenced to 30 years in federal prison.

A Department of Homeland Security investigator who was involved in the Quitter case told the Journal that Facebook’s “trust and safety team’s ability to access messages was instrumental” in bringing about an arrest. Brian Fitzgerald, the head of the Homeland Security’s Chicago office, told the Journal that a random stranger shouldn’t be able to go to encrypted communications with a minor.

Meta, parent company to WhatsApp, has sought to minimize the risks posed by end-to-end encryption technology. The company has spent years developing robust safety measures on Facebook and Instagram to prevent and combat abuse or unlawful activity. Meta also offers many encryption-resilient tools to help keep teens safe, such as reporting suspicious instances to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

Meta is parent company to WhatsApp, the world’s most popular encrypted messaging app. However, WhatsApp users communicate with people they know — unlike Facebook and Instagram, which allow strangers to find each other. Meta’s top competitor on social media, TikTok, does not offer encrypted messaging services because the company said it “place[s] a premium on ensuring that our younger users have a safe experience.” YouTube, owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet Inc., disabled private messaging in 2019 because it wanted to focus on improving public conversations.

SOURCES: NY POST, WALL STREET JOURNAL

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