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Spotting dangerous imposter retail apps popping up in time for the holidays

(BUSINESS NEWS) ‘Tis the season for scamming. It looks like there are already apps popping up that trick even the tech savvy. Let’s discuss how to spot ’em.

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Risky business

Ah, the holidays! With hopes for a festive holiday season just around the corner, everyone wants to make it easier for you to shop for amazing gifts for those special people in your life. Including, it seems, scammers, who want to trick you into downloading fake apps from very real brands.

Over the past month, there has been a significant increase in the number of counterfeit apps in the Apple App Store that appear to be authentic, from stores ranging from luxury brands such as Christian Dior and Jimmy Choo all the way to discount stops such as Dollar Tree. These, however, do not go to the official apps of the retailer, but instead link to apps that range from the annoying to the malicious.

In some, the user is asked to provide Facebook login information or credit card data, exposing them to financial and personal security risks, as well as malware that could turn their iPhone into an information sieve, providing access to all of one’s virtual life to a bot.

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Who is to blame?

So, who’s behind the latest attempt to defraud you?

The New York Times names the chief culprits to be a company called Cloaker. Cloaker, based in China, provides the technology that undergirds thousands of apps found in the Apple App Store, but does not look into the veracity of what the clients are asking them to create.

Speaking to The New York Times, Jack Lin, the ostensible founder of Cloaker, commented that, “We hope that our clients are all official sellers. If they are using these brands, we need some kind of authorization, then we will provide services.” Although Mr. Lin’s words may sound soothing, take into consideration that Cloaker’s website purports many far-fetched claims, such as the branch office that they maintain they keep in the middle of Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.

What is Apple doing?

“[W]e take…security very seriously,” said an Apple spokesman, Tom Neumayr, speaking to The New York Times. “We’ve set up ways for customers and developers to flag fraudulent or suspicious apps, which we promptly investigate to ensure the App Store is safe and secure. We’ve removed these offending apps and will continue to be vigilant about looking for apps that might put our users at risk.”

Apple’s vigilance aside, the App Store is besieged daily by an influx of new fake apps. When an app is submitted for review by Apple, it’s important to note that the problem is one of scale.

With literally thousands of apps submitted to iTunes on a daily basis, Apple has made the choice to scan for software that may be compromised of malicious code, rather than looking at apps individually to see if they are connected to the brands that they purport to be.

Once the app has passed the initial phase of Apple’s scrutiny on its submission to the App Store, developers have been known to then alter the content inside the app, or simply overwhelm the App Store by changing their bona fides and resubmitting similar apps to those detected as fakes. Some of the developers have been known to utilize Apple’s systems against it, using the paid search ad feature to place their fake app higher in the results screen than the actual item itself.

Protect yourself

So, how do you protect yourself?

Spelling counts: You’d think that a company would take the time to spell its name brand correctly, and you’d be right. Many of these counterfeit apps have names that don’t reflect an accurate spelling or otherwise appear slightly wonky as compared to the official branding. There are other signs of problems beyond the names, too. The menus and support services may not be in standard English, or even in approximately professional English grammar and spelling, which one can reasonably expect of an authentic brand app.

They existed out of thin air: While everyone has to start somewhere, you should expect authentic apps to have reviews that have the air of authenticity to them. Many of these fakes have either no review history or one that is very similar to a cut- and-paste approach to a 5-star rating and the same comments on review after review. Also, many of these counterfeits do not have a history of prior versions or updates.

First isn’t always best: As we discussed, with many counterfeiters using the Apple paid search feature to boost themselves to the top of the ratings, being at the top isn’t a sure sign of authenticity.

Ultimately, although Apple means well and is quick to respond to complaints, it is up to you as the consumer and the brand itself to police the App Store and to report signs of fraudulent behavior. While the holidays ought to be the season for being jolly for everyone, make sure that it’s only those who didn’t make the naughty list who get to enjoy them.

#ScammyScam

Roger is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and holds two Master's degrees, one in Education Leadership and another in Leadership Studies. In his spare time away from researching leadership retention and communication styles, he loves to watch baseball, especially the Red Sox!

Tech News

4 ways startups prove their investment in upcoming technology trends

(TECH NEWS) Want to see into the future? Just take a look at what technology the tech field is exploring and investing in today — that’s the stuff that will make up the world of tomorrow.

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Woman testing VR technology

Big companies scout like for small ones that have proven ideas and prototypes, rather than take the initial risk on themselves. So startups have to stay ahead of technology by their very nature, in order to be stand-out candidates when selling their ideas to investors.

Innovation Leader, in partnership with KPMG LLP, recently conducted a study that sheds light onto the bleeding edge of tech: The technologies that the biggest companies are most interested in building right now.

The study asked its respondents to group 16 technologies into four categorical buckets, which Innovation Leader CEO Scott Kirsner refers to as “commitment level.”

The highest commitment level, “in-market or accelerating investment,” basically means that technology is already mainstream. For optimum tech-clairvoyance, keep your eyes on the technologies which land in the middle of the ranking.

“Investing or piloting” represents the second-highest commitment level – that means they have offerings that are approaching market-readiness.

The standout in this category is Advanced Analytics. That’s a pretty vague title, but it generally refers to the automated interpretation and prediction on data sets, and has overlap with Machine learning.

Wearables, on the other hand, are self explanatory. From smart watches to location trackers for children, these devices often pick up on input from the body, such heart rate.

The “Internet of Things” is finding new and improved ways to embed sensor and network capabilities into objects within the home, the workplace, and the world at large. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean anyone’s out there trying to reinvent Juicero, though.)

Collaboration tools and cloud computing also land on this list. That’s no shock, given the continuous pandemic.

The next tier is “learning and exploring”— that represents lower commitment, but a high level of curiosity. These technologies will take a longer time to become common, but only because they have an abundance of unexplored potential.

Blockchain was the highest ranked under this category. Not surprising, considering it’s the OG of making people go “wait, what?”

Augmented & virtual reality has been hyped up particularly hard recently and is in high demand (again, due to the pandemic forcing us to seek new ways to interact without human contact.)

And notably, AI & machine learning appears on rankings for both second and third commitment levels, indicating it’s possibly in transition between these categories.

The lowest level is “not exploring or investing,” which represents little to no interest.

Quantum computing is the standout selection for this category of technology. But there’s reason to believe that it, too, is just waiting for the right breakthroughs to happen.

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Tech News

Internet of Things and deep learning: How your devices are getting smarter

(TECH NEWS) The latest neural network from Massachusetts Institute of Technology shows a great bound forward for deep learning and the “Internet of Things.”

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Woman using smart phone to control other devices in home, connected to deep learning networks

The deep learning that modifies your social media and gives you Google search results is coming to your thermostat.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a deep learning system of neural networks that can be used in the “Internet of Things” (IoT). Named MCUNet, the system designs small neural networks that allow for previously unseen speed and accuracy for deep learning on IoT devices. Benefits of the system include energy savings and improved data security for devices.

Created in the early 1980s, the IoT is essentially a large group of everyday household objects that have become increasingly connected through the internet. They include smart fridges, wearable heart monitors, thermostats, and other “smart” devices. These gadgets run on microcontrollers, or computer chips with no processing system, that have very little processing power and memory. This has traditionally made it hard for deep learning to occur on IoT devices.

“How do we deploy neural nets directly on these tiny devices? It’s a new research area that’s getting very hot,” said Song Han, Assistant Professor of Computer Science at MIT who is a part of the project, “Companies like Google and ARM are all working in this direction.”

In order to achieve deep learning for IoT connected machines, Han’s group designed two specific components. The first is TinyEngine, an inference engine that directs resource management similar to an operating system would. The other is Tiny NAS, a neural architecture search algorithm. For those not well-versed in such technical terms, think of these things like a mini Windows 10 and machine learning for that smart fridge you own.

The results of these new components are promising. According to Han, MCUNet could become the new industry standard, stating that “It has huge potential.” He envisions the system has one that could help smartwatches not just monitor heartbeat and blood pressure but help analyze and explain to users what that means. It could also lead to making IoT devices far more secure than they are currently.

“A key advantage is preserving privacy,” says Han. “You don’t need to transmit the data to the cloud.”

It will still be a while until we see smart devices with deep learning capabilities, but it is all but inevitable at this point—the future we’ve all heard about is definitely on the horizon.

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Tech News

Google is giving back some privacy control? (You read that right)

(TECH NEWS) In a bizarre twist, Google is giving you the option to opt out of data collection – for real this time.

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Open laptop on desk, open to map privacy options

It’s strange to hear “Google” and “privacy” in the same sentence without “concerns” following along, yet here we are. In a twist that’s definitely not related to various controversies involving the tech company, Google is giving back some control over data sharing—even if it isn’t much.

Starting soon, you will be able to opt out of Google’s data-reliant “smart” features (Smart Compose and Smart Reply) across the G-Suite of pertinent products: Gmail, Chat, and Meet. Opting out would, in this case, prevent Google from using your data to formulate responses based on your previous activity; it would also turn off the “smart” features.

One might observe that users have had the option to turn off “smart” features before, but doing so didn’t disable Google’s data collection—just the features themselves. For Google to include the option to opt out of data collection completely is relatively unprecedented—and perhaps exactly what people have been clamoring for on the heels of recent lawsuits against the tech giant.

In addition to being able to close off “smart” features, Google will also allow you to opt out of data collection for things like the Google Assistant, Google Maps, and other Google-related services that lean into your Gmail Inbox, Meet, and Chat activity. Since Google knowing what your favorite restaurant is or when to recommend tickets to you can be unnerving, this is a welcome change of pace.

Keep in mind that opting out of data collection for “smart” features will automatically disable other “smart” options from Google, including those Assistant reminders and customized Maps. At the time of this writing, Google has made it clear that you can’t opt out of one and keep the other—while you can go back and toggle on data collection again, you won’t be able to use these features without Google analyzing your Meet, Chat, and Gmail contents and behavior.

It will be interesting to see what the short-term ramifications of this decision are. If Google stops collecting data for a small period of time at your request and then you turn back on the “smart” features that use said data, will the predictive text and suggestions suffer? Only time will tell. For now, keep an eye out for this updated privacy option—it should be rolling out in the next few weeks.

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