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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

Beautiful new wellness app takes a more holistic approach

(TECHNOLOGY) Using tech to help with wellness is nothing new, but this app takes a more holistic approach to help you balance.

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There are thousands of health and fitness apps in various marketplaces, so what distinguishes between them is often a matter of personal taste. Much like the variety of organizational apps, I find that picking a wellness app involves much the same process – what works for you? What do you need? What are your wellness goals? And so on.

I spent a few days with the new wellness app, Wellbody, and I will say I am fifty/fifty. I love the approach and philosophy of Wellbody. Take a look at their fundamental tenants:

  • We believe in progress over perfection
  • We believe in small, simple, and sustainable behavior change
  • We believe that with mindful practice, people can do amazing things
  • We believe that real change starts with being mindful…and is maintained through creating healthy habits
  • We take a holistic view across the five major pillars of health: nutrition, exercise and movement, sleep, stress management, and connection
  • We believe everyone deserves access to better health and wellness
  • We want to help you live life well

As a person who is incredibly engaged in their own wellness and trying to figure out how to do that, I believe fully in this model. Holistic perspectives on health are important for anyone.

However, a holistic perspective may mean some people perceive this app as having a lack of focus. It is foundational, so it is not a workout plan, or calorie counter, etc. It’s primarily educational. And the content is actually good. The foundation series are well narrated, and I think it does a good job of level setting and providing information.

It does have a daily quote and a little daily experiment (which I think is a good add). The content library is growing, and the sessions outside of the foundational session are great (I loved the “Mindfulness vs. Meditation” piece)

However, there are a few challenges I have right away.

First, the sessions don’t have any good visuals, summaries, or much of anything else.

Also, the daily experiment has been rather vague. Yes, I understand that it is a mindfulness app, but the challenges are more pondering and less practice.

Most critically – without an internet connection you can’t listen to this. So if you are on a plane, or on a limited reception subway, or are away from Wi-Fi, you can’t listen to any of the content. That’s a glaring issue, and it is too easy to turn to other podcasts or apps who we can listen to the content without an active internet connection. It makes it harder to open this app everyday, which is important for the way it works.

I think Wellbody has the concept down – what’s missing is more content. There needs to be more specific content, maybe a journaling feature, etc. I would recommend this app for anyone who is starting a wellness journey, or maybe is re-evaluating what kinds of health changes they are trying to make. If you need a diet tracker, or exercise plan, this is going to be less helpful. However, if you are trying to change the way we look at wellness, this is a great place to start.

Side Note: I love the visual design of this app, which is a weird cross between Zen and an episode of Fixer Upper (I love all of the designs at Target, y’all).

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Tech News

What’s TikTok, why’s it so huge, and why is Facebook scared of it?

(TECH) TikTok has taken the internet by storm – you’ve probably seen the videos floating around, so here’s the context your business needs to know.

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Jimmy Fallon challenged his viewers to his version of a #sharpiechallenge. That’s where you toss a sharpie into the air, catch it, take the cap off and draw a mustache on yourself with it. He requested that viewers use TikTok to record it and upload it.

As of this writing, the hashtag boasts 8.2 million views in TikTok alone – if it wasn’t big before it gained Fallon as a fan, it is now.

What Is TikTok?

The TikTok app is the brainchild of Bytedance, a Chinese company that once owned Muscal.ly, and it launched in September 2016 as Douyin (it’s Chinese moniker). When it launched internationally, a year later, they branded the social media app TikTok. When Musical.ly shut down, users had to switch.

The app lets users view, create and share 15-second videos (kind of like Vine, RIP). It’s estimated that there are over 500 million users worldwide. The app has been highly ranked in the charts for number of downloads over the past few months, with a spike when Fallon had his first challenge, #tumbleweedchallenge. (For the record, Fallon and The Tonight Show do not have a business relationship with Bytedance.)

Users can lip-sync, do duets, record a reactions video and has some excellent tech in the app for video editing. Users can comment on videos and create video memes. It’s pretty fascinating. And wildly appealing to the masses.

One of the best things about TikTok is that the app doesn’t have advertising or monetization capabilities, even though it has a broad audience. With an estimated 500 million users, it’s just a matter of time.

Facebook launches a TikTok-clone.

Facebook doesn’t want to be late to the game. In classic follower fashion, they have launched their own short-video app, Lasso.

I played with both apps, and Lasso just doesn’t have comparable content.

What Facebook does have is its user base. By integrating with Facebook itself, Lasso may outdo TikTok eventually, but it will need to increase its capabilities.

Why should your business take notice?

Small businesses should be aware of these apps. Online videos are driving social media engagement. Content is king, and you’ve been reading here for years that video is a powerful component of any social media strategy.

TikTok and Lasso give you video-making and video-sharing tools that could increase your online presence.

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Tech News

Hardware tokens are what folks serious about avoiding hackers use

(TECH) Hardware tokens have been around for a while, but people most serious about avoiding hackers swear by them.

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How many passwords do you have? How many sites do you use each of your passwords for? Information Today research estimates over half of all adults have five or more unique passwords, while one in three adults have 10 or more unique passwords that have to be remembered.

This particular study was from 2012. I’d wager that most of us use many more passwords today than we did just six years ago. With the risk of your accounts being hacked increasing, you might be wary – you might not even trust an online password manager.

If you struggle with remembering all of your passwords and want to make sure you are managing passwords and protecting your accounts, you might want to consider a hardware token.

What is a hardware token?

This piece of hardware is a physical device, similar to a USB drive, that lets you gain access to an electronically restricted resource. It’s actually a simple two-factor authentication source.

Once your account is set up to accept the hardware token, you log in to the account with your user ID and password. You’ll be asked to insert the hardware token into the device, which gives you access to your account. It’s another layer of protection and authentication.

Hardware tokens have been on the market since 2002. Although many use the USB port on your device, Bluetooth tokens and smart cards are other types of hardware tokens. Setting up a hardware token is fairly easy. You can use your hardware token with most websites that have two-factor authorization.

The challenges with hardware tokens is that they are very easy to lose and can easily be stolen. That’s a pretty significant downside.

The YubiKey, one of the current offerings on the market, costs about $50. It could be expensive to have a hardware token for everyone in your organization. Google Titan, another brand of hardware key, costs about the same.

Some argue that not everyone needs this much security, but those people probably have never been hacked. If it protects your accounts, it might be worth taking a look.

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