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Google removes 25 apps for secretly stealing your data

The apps were downloaded more than 2 million times

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Google has removed 25 apps from its Play Store for slyly collecting your data in the background. The apps were collectively downloaded more than 2.3 million times before the company clamped down.

According to French cybersecurity firm Evina, the malicious apps were developed by the same threat group. They seemed to offer different functionalities but were fundamentally designed to phish data.

The apps disguised themselves as step counters, image editors, video editors, wallpaper apps, flashlight applications, file managers, and mobile games. While offering some functionality on the front, the end-goal was always to collect user data.

Basically, what these sinister apps do is steal Facebook user’s credentials if they regularly open the account on their phone. The phishing app would overlay a web browser window on top of the official Facebook app and load a fake Facebook login page. You’d assume you’re logging in to your account, but in reality, you just handed over your username and password.

Image by Evina

Evina discovered the flaw in these apps and contacted Google for further action at the end of May. Once the company’s findings were verified, the apps were kicked from the Play Store. Google not only removed the apps from the Play Store but also disabled them on users’ smartphones and informs them via the Play Protect feature.

In recent times, users are increasingly aware of phishing and data collection since social platforms like TikTok have also been caught red-handed. Apple has emphasized its focus on privacy and announced a host of new features to protect the user via iOS 14. Even Xiaomi has added a range of new methods to protect the user in MIUI 12.

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US wants to secure itself from Chinese companies, apps via a Clean Network

An American internet firewall?

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ByteDance-owned TikTok is the hottest topic in the news right now due to its Chinese roots. The US wants to distance itself from these Chinese companies and apps to ensure there are no data backdoors or infiltrations. It intends to do so with a new concept dubbed Clean Network.

The US wants to establish a clear line that ensures data of American citizens doesn’t land in Chinese hands. President Trump has already threatened to ban TikTok and ByteDance is scrambling to find a taker for its US, New Zealand, Canada, and Australian services.

“With parent companies based in China, apps like TikTok, WeChat, and others are significant threats to personal data of American citizens, not to mention tools for the Chinese Communist Party content censorship,” Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo said. He added that apps from China threaten privacy and spread malware, propaganda, and disinformation.

The Clean Network will ensure there are no Chinese components or devices in the telecom network. Similarly, the US will try to prevent China from accessing raw data from submarine cables that power the internet. For cloud setups, it’ll ensure that data of American citizens are saved on local infrastructure, avoiding Chinese players like Alibaba Cloud.

Telecom giant Huawei has been under the scanner since last year and the recent developments are definitely not in its favor. The Chinese phone maker is barred from using Google Mobile Services on Android, derailing its dominance on the global stage. With the ongoing hostility, other countries like India have also taken a hard stance against Chinese companies.

The US is also lobbying its strategic allies to ditch Chinese equipment citing security and privacy concerns. Practically, Huawei is the most hit in terms of revenue lost, followed by other companies like ZTE. While ByteDance can save some of its investment in TikTok thanks to a possible takeover by Microsoft, Huawei has no such cushion available.

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Google adds Safe Folder to Files app

For more privacy and security

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Have you ever had to lend your phone to a friend or family member for a quick minute, only to realize that — intentionally or not — they have started browsing on your phone. Smartphones are personal devices, and thus, might contain files that you don’t exactly want other people seeing. This is the situation that Google is trying to address with the Safe Folder.

Safe Folder is a secure 4-digit PIN-encrypted folder. It helps users store important documents, images, videos and audio files securely. This helps in keeping their personal files safe from being accessed by someone else.

The folder won’t allow users to take screenshots or screen recordings of its contents. It’s also locked as soon as users switch away from the app.  This means no content is accessible in the background and the PIN is required upon re-entry to the Files app.

Google didn’t just come up with this out of the blue. They conducted research and found that in certain countries — especially those with limited smartphone access — device sharing is a common occurrence.

Asked if this is a feature that can be extended to apps installed on the phone too, the Google representatives discussing the Safe Folder feature said they understand the need but can’t speak to any implementation or development of such.

That said, this is still a welcome addition for anyone who has ever encountered this scenario.

SEE ALSO: Nearby Share which is ‘Google’s AirDrop’ now rolling out

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Nearby Share which is ‘Google’s AirDrop’ now rolling out

Now supporting Pixel and Samsung phones

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After a long time in development, Google’s Nearby Share feature is now available on some Pixel and Samsung phones. The file-sharing feature enables direct transfer of files locally, improving speed as well as ease-of-use.

Apple’s iOS and macOS have a feature called AirDrop for a very long time now. Using local WiFi protocol, any large file can be swiftly transferred within the ecosystem. Android users have long been asking for a similar feature and it’s now available on a few phones.

If you want to share a file, just tap share, and wait for the nearby device to show-up. Select the device and the file will be off within a few seconds. This eliminates the need to upload the file on a cloud and later download it on another device. Bluetooth connection is radically slower than WiFi protocol and hence cannot be used for larger files.

The concept is on the same lines as third-party apps like Xender or Me Share. But, with a direct app from Google, Nearby Share can become a deeply rooted part of the operating system, much like the Play Store.

The receiving device will always have the option to “accept” or “decline” the file, so files are never transferred without explicit confirmation. However, the best part about Nearby Share is its cross-platform compatibility. It’ll work with Chromebooks, Windows, and Chrome browser. iOS support isn’t mentioned yet.

Nearby Share leverages Bluetooth and location, along with WebRTC, or peer-to-peer WiFi sharing. Lastly, the feature is backed by Google Play Services, so Huawei phones will again miss out on a simple app.

Although, Chinese tech giants like OPPO, vivo, Xiaomi, realme, and more have created a consortium that shall support a similar file sharing app seamlessly across all their devices. Google is quite late to the game and these Android phone makers were kind of tired of waiting.

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