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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

Google set to release new AI-operated meeting room kit… and it’s pretty baller

(TECH NEWS) Google’s newest toy is designed to “put people first” by alleviating video and audio issues for conference room meetings.

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Google Meet Series One is a new meeting kit that puts people first.

Remote meetings can be the worst sometimes. The awful video and audio quality are frustrating when you’re trying to hear important details for an upcoming project. Even with the fastest internet connection, this doesn’t guarantee you’ll be able to clearly hear or see anyone who’s in the office. But Google is re-imagining conference rooms with their new video conferencing hardware.

Yesterday, the company introduced Google Meet Series One. In partnership with Lenovo, this meeting room kit is made exclusively for Google Meet and is poised to be the hardware that “puts people first.”

The Series One has several components that make it stand out. First is the “Smart Audio Bar,” powered by eight beam-forming microphones. Using Google Edge TPUs, the soundbar can deliver TrueVoice®, the company’s “proprietary, multi-channel noise cancellation technology.” It removes distracting sounds, like annoying finger and foot-tapping noises, so everyone’s voices are crystal clear from anywhere in the room.

The hardware also has 4K smart cameras that allow for high-resolution video and digital PTZ (pan, tilt, zoom) effects. Processed with Google AI, the device knows to automatically zoom in and out so all of the meetings’ participants are framed in the camera. With an i7 processor and Google Edge TPUs, the system is built to “handle the taxing demands of video conferencing along with running the latest in Google AI as efficiently and reliably as possible.”

The meeting kit has Google grade security built-in, so the system automatically updates over-the-air. The system also works seamlessly with Google services and apps we already use. Its touch control display is powered by a single ethernet cable. From the admin controls, you can manage meeting lists and control room settings. Powered by assistant voice commands, their touch controller provides a “touchless touchability”; if you want to, you can join a meeting just by saying, “Hey Google, join the meeting.”

These new meeting kits are easy to install and are versatile. They can be configured to fit small, medium, and large-sized rooms. “Expanding kits for larger rooms can be done with just an ethernet cable and the tappable Mic Pod, which expands microphone reach and allows for mute/unmute control.”

According to the Google Meet Series One introductory video, the meeting room kits are “beautifully and thoughtfully designed to make video meetings approachable and immersive so everyone gets a seat at the table.”

Currently, there is no release date set for Google Meet Series One. However, pre-orders will soon be available in the US, Canada, Finland, France, Norway, Spain, Ireland, United Kingdom, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Netherlands, Denmark, and Belgium.

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Tech News

One creepy way law enforcement might have your private data

(TECH NEWS) Wait, geofences do what? Law enforcement can pull your private data if you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

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Man walking on crosswalk with phone, but his private data could be vulnerable.

By now, it’s pretty common knowledge that our smartphones are tracking us, but what you might not be aware of is just how much law enforcement is taking advantage of our private data. Now, the good news is that some places have gotten wise to this breach of privacy and are banning certain tactics. The bad news is: If you were ever in the vicinity of a recent crime scene, it’s quite possible your privacy has already been invaded.

How are law enforcement doing this? Well, it starts with a geofence.

At its core, a geofence is a virtual border around a real geographic location. This can serve many purposes, from creating marketing opportunities for targeted ads to tracking shipping packages. In the case of law enforcement, though, geofences are often used in something called a geofence warrant.

Traditionally, warrants identify a subject first, then retrieve their electronic records. A geofence warrant, on the other hand, identifies a time and place and pulls electronic data from that area. If you’re thinking “hey, that sounds sketchy,” you are–forgive the pun–completely warranted.

With a geofence, law enforcement can dig through your private data, not because they have proof you were involved in a crime, but because you happened to be nearby.

This practice, though relatively new, is on the rise: Google reported a 15-fold increase in geofence warrant requests between 2017 and 2018. As well as invading privacy, these warrants have led to false arrests and can be used against peaceful protesters. Not to mention, in many cases, geofence warrants can be extremely easy to acquire. One report in Minnesota found judges signed off on these cases in under 4 minutes.

Thankfully, there have been signs of people pushing back against the use of geofence warrants. In fact, there have been multiple federal court rulings that find the practice in violation of the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens from “unreasonable searches and seizures,” including your electronic data.

If you’re still worried about your privacy, there are ways to keep your electronic data on lock. For example, turn off your location services when you’re traveling, and avoid connecting to open Wi-Fi networks. You can also work to limit location sharing with apps and websites.

These and other tips can be a great way to help you avoid not just geofence warrants, but others who want to use your electronic information for their own gain.

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Tech News

Incoming! Amazon drones will be dropping off packages soon (we hope)

(TECH NEWS) The Federal Aviation Administration has approved Amazon for drone delivery service, but when will the drones actually take flight?

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One of Prime Air's drones ready for test flights.

Amazon has finally received the stamp of approval from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to deliver packages by drones. This pivotal step brings the online retailer closer to their promise of delivering packages to customers in 30 minutes or less.

In 2013, during CBS’s “60 Minutes” interview, Amazon CEO and Founder, Jeff Bezos, said drones would be delivering customers’ packages within five years. Although the estimate is a couple of years off, it seems like that day might be right around the corner.

Personally, I’m looking forward to the day when little floating presents are sailing through the sky (Animal Crossing balloons, anyone?). Despite our excitement to see our latest Amazon impulse purchase land on our doorstep, it isn’t going to happen overnight.

The Part 135 Air Carrier Certificate Amazon obtained for its fleet of Prime Air drones will allow the company to use unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) “to carry the property of another for compensation beyond visual line of sight.” Although the FAA certification is allowing Amazon to begin test trials, Bloomberg reports that the retail giant still has “regulatory and technical hurdles” to overcome.

In addition, the FAA has yet to set regulations that will “serve as a framework to expand drone flights over crowds, a building block necessary for deliveries.” Amazon hasn’t said when and where it will start testing the delivery service either.

David Carbon, Amazon Vice President who oversees Prime Air, made this statement: “This certification is an important step forward for Prime Air and indicates the FAA’s confidence in Amazon’s operating and safety procedures for an autonomous drone delivery service that will one day deliver packages to our customers around the world.”

This approval is definitely a step forward, but Amazon has been working on the drone delivery service for years. Early last year, the giant retailer revealed they would start offering one-day shipping. They have followed through on this, at least. And during a Las Vegas Conference in June 2019, they revealed their “fully electric drones that can fly up to 15 miles and deliver packages under five pounds to customers in less than 30 minutes.” But it still doesn’t answer when we can expect to see whizzing drones overhead.

I’m not sure when Amazon will fulfill their last promise. But it is getting closer. What I do know is that I look forward to the Amazon drones taking flight. I can’t wait to place my orders knowing that I will get that last-minute present I ordered just in time.

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