Want Increased Control Over online Communications? Consider Wickr

July 9, 2012

If you’re tired of having your personal information, conversations, photos, texts, and video messages exploited by companies, used to embarrass you by frenemies, or pawed over by data collection services, Wickr’s an app worth considering.

The company’s founders have the credentials and the right motivation to build a tool that puts control of your communications squarely – and simply – in your own hands.  Kara Lynn Coppa, is a former defense contractor; Christopher Howell, is a former forensics investigator for the State of New Jersey; Robert Statica, is a director at the Center for Information Protection at the New Jersey Institute of Technology; and Nico Sell, is a security expert and longtime organizer for Defcon, an annual hacker convention.

Responding to questions during an interview, Ms. Sell said, “Right now, everyone is being tracked and traced in ways they don’t understand by numerous governments and corporations,” “Our private communications, by default, should be untraceable. Right now, society functions the other way around.”

Continuing, Ms. Sell said, “If my daughter wants to post a picture of our dog, Max, on Instagram, she shouldn’t have to know to turn the geo-location off,” “People have always asked me ‘How do I communicate securely and anonymously?’ There was never an easy answer, until now.”

Mr. Statica added to this point saying “There is no reason your pictures, videos and communications should be available on some server, where it can easily be accessed by who-knows-who, or what service, without any control over what people do with it.”

Amen to these views.

So what does Wickr offer?

Encrypted messaging – all messages – text, photos, video and audio – sent through the service are secured “by military-grade encryption… They can only be read by you and the recipients on the devices you authorize,” Wickr only stores the encoded result – and only for as long as needed for system continuity.

Self-destruct option – allows you to determine how long the people you communicate with can view the content – text, video, photos – before it is erased. (Recipients can however still capture a screenshot of the content, but the team behind Wickr is looking for ways to notify the sender if a screenshot is taken).

Total phone wipe – one of the risks of recycling cellphones is that you can’t easily erase the phone’s hard drive which enables criminals (and forensic investigators) to recreate your content. Wickr addresses this issue with an anti-forensics mechanism that erases deleted content by overwriting the metadata and rendering indecipherable.

Anonymity on Wickr – the service takes your privacy so seriously they don’t even know your username, you aren’t forced to share your email address or any other personal information that could identify you to the service or to others. Instead, your information is “irreversibly encoded with multiple rounds of salted cryptographic hashing prior to being sent to our servers. Even we cannot determine the actual values based on the hashed values we store.”

Free to use – you might think a service like this could put a hefty price on your privacy, instead the company has chosen to use the “freemium” business model that charges only for premium service features like sending files to large groups or sending large files.

NOTE: I am not associated in any way with this app, nor do I know any of the individuals behind it. While it’s rare I endorse a product, the philosophy behind the service is fabulous, and the tools are something every consumer needs to protect themselves and their privacy.

The next step is for every consumer to demand this same level of respect and security of EVERY online service with whom they interact. 

Want to learn more? Read Wickr’s FAQ

 

Linda

Advertisements

2011; 8 Trillion Text Messages Sent

March 3, 2012

It’s no secret that we can’t live without our cell phones; last year researchers with Telenav found that 22% of smartphone owners said they would rather go a week without seeing their significant other than without checking their apps, 33% would rather give up sex for a week, and 22% would rather go without a toothbrush than without a phone!

Now, a new video by MobileFuture, The 2011 Mobile Year in Review, brings additional highlights – like last year we sent 8 trillion text messages, and we downloaded 1 billion apps EACH Month.  Find it surprising? Spend 2½ minutes to learn a great deal more about our mobile use…

For more interesting info, check out these infographics:

Linda


Internet Phrase of the Month – “QR Code”

December 8, 2011

You see the little squares in ads, in stores and on billboards, stickers, business cards, and posters, but you may not be among the millions of users actively scanning these for information.

Once scanned, the QR code navigates the user to a website with special deals or information, a video about the company, service or product, or even be used to place a phone call.

How to use a QR Code:

You’ll need a phone with a camera, and the ability to download scanner applications – note some of these will also scan barcodes.  To find the right application for your phone, search the mobile marketplace relevant for your phone’s operating system. Some popular choices are this Barcode Scanner for Android phones, QuickMark for Iphones, and MobileTag for BlackBerry.

Start your scanners!

Linda


Top Tips to Avoid Malicious Apps

November 28, 2011

17.7 billion mobile apps are estimated to be downloaded in 2011 (a 115% increase from 2010). By 2012, mobile apps are projected to generate more than $15 billion in app store revenues from end-users alone, according to “Forecast: Mobile Application Stores, Worldwide, 2008-2015,” by Gartner.

“As the application market continues to boom, users should be more cautious that they know what they’re installing,” said Lawrence Pingree, Gartner analyst. “For example, they should only install applications from trusted sources and ensure that permissions match up with the respective application’s core features. Anti-malware protection will also go a long way in helping to ensure the user’s mobile device has the latest protection.”

To help consumers stay safer when selecting mobile apps to download, McAfee has just released their Top Five Tips to Avoid Bad Apps.

These include:

  1. Although smartphone malware is remains a relatively low threat compared to malware targeting PCs; being aware that it exists is the first step toward protecting yourself and your data.
  2. Always research any app and its publisher and check the ratings before downloading – you’re safer if you install apps that are broadly used or are recommended by friends or colleagues.
  3. Purchase from a well-known reputable app store market. For Android users, avoid installation of non-market applications by de-selecting the “Unknown sources” option in the Applications Settings menu on your device. If the option is not listed, it means your mobile service provider has already done this for the user.
  4. When installing an app, pay attention to the list of permissions it wants to access the hardware and software on your device, like your contacts, camera and location. If it wants permissions for things the app doesn’t need, don’t install that app! For example, an alarm clock app shouldn’t need to access your contacts or have the ability to transmit that data from your device.
  5. Install antivirus software on your phone. Always install an antivirus program when you get a new mobile device – before you add any other apps.

“Maliciously modified apps have started to become more prevalent,” said Vincent Weafer, senior vice president, McAfee Labs. “Based on McAfee detections, we’ve seen approximately 200 malicious apps versus tens of thousands of good apps. However, with mobile devices becoming a targeted platform for malware, it’s becoming more common for cybercriminals to attempt to corrupt a legitimate app. The best advice for users is to be careful, protect the mobile device and the mobile apps that reside on the device.”

These are tips to live by.

To learn more about mobile threats, see my blogs It’s No Accident – Mobile Money and Mobile Malware Set to Go Big in 2011, McAfee Threat Predictions for 2011 – Mobile: Usage is rising in the workplace, and so will attacks, More Mobile Apps Caught Inappropriately Collecting User Info and Installing Malware and Twenty-Five New Malicious Apps on Android; 30,000 to 120,000 Users Affected.

Linda


Consumer Reports Study; Young Adults, Cars, and Phones a Deadly Mix

March 23, 2011

April’s Consumer Reports’ Magazine shows the results of a new nationwide survey on distracted driving and the results are once again sobering.

The study, conducted by the Consumer Reports National Research Center, found that “almost two-thirds of the survey respondents had seen drivers in other vehicles texting on a cell phone or other mobile device, just in the previous 30 days. Almost all—94 percent—had observed motorists talking on a handheld phone. In the same period, more than half had seen a dangerous situation that was related to a distracted driver.”

To be clear, the term ‘distracted driving’ includes any behavior that make the driver take their focus off of the road, not just those that aren’t cell phone related, but the use of cell phones while driving has dramatically increased the number of distracted driving accidents. In 2009, the most recent year with available data, cell phones were involved in 18% of the 5,474 deaths, and people killed in fatal accidents involved the use of a cell phone according to the Department of Transportation.

Teens are the worst offenders, but adults set poor example

Among survey respondents under 30 years old, 63% reported using a handheld phone while driving within the previous 30 days and almost 33% had texted while driving. This compares to 41% and 9% respectively, of respondents who are 30 or older.

Just how distracting interacting with cell phones can be has been documented in several studies; in addition to the Department of Transportation’s data, a study in the American Journal of Public Health found the increase in texting while driving is estimated to have caused more than 16,000 additional road fatalities between 2001- 2007. And a report released by National Organizations for Youth Safety (NOYS) and The Allstate Foundation in 2009 found that despite the recognition of the danger, 83% of teenagers admit that they talk on a cell phone while driving and 68% admit to texting while driving.

The Consumer Reports’ study also found that though 90% of their total survey respondents felt that texting while driving is very dangerous, and nearly 50% considered using a handheld phone very dangerous, almost a quarter of all respondents reported that it hasn’t led them to reduce or stop such behavior.

Increasing awareness and changing behaviors

Sobering as the report’s finding of nearly 25% of users not changing behavior, the flip side is that 78% of respondents said they had reduced or stopped behaviors related to distracted driving. This list shows what factors were most influential.

Additionally, when researchers asked teens to share ideas about what could be done to reduce distracted driving they received some clear feedback:

  • “Make it safe and acceptable to pull over to do such tasks.”
  • “Stiffer penalties, parents applying consequences for minors, and more education/awareness programs.”
  • “Adults don’t discipline like it’s a problem; parents are blind to it. They tell us do not drink and drive, but don’t say do not use the phone.”
  • “I think that apps … that prohibit a user from receiving or sending text messages while traveling over 10 mph are very helpful and should be more widely used.”
  • “Parents should let us kids have a Bluetooth headset so we wouldn’t be tempted to use our phones and take a hand off the steering wheel.”
  • “I know that my friend texts a lot while she’s driving, but whenever I’m in her car, I make her give me the phone and tell me what she wants me to write. …Peer pressure is such a powerful force when you have it in your corner.”

In addition to using technology to help reduce cell phone related distractions, I recommend that you spend time with any teens you parent or work with on the Arbella Insurance Group Charitable Foundation’s Distractology 101 Learning Challenge site. Their learning challenge is a real wake-up notice to users as they discover how much focus they lose when attempting to multi-task behind the wheel.

See more of my blogs on distracted driving:

Additional resources:

Together we can reshape attitudes and risky behaviors of cell phone users in cars.

Linda


New McAfee Infographic Highlights Perils of Losing Your Mobile Phone

February 17, 2011

If a picture paints a thousand words, then this infographic beats an essay  hands down.…. What are you doing to protect your phone? And while we’re on the topic, how much to you know about protecting your kids while they’re on their phones? Learn more about Child Cell Phone Safety.

Linda


Part 4: McAfee Threat Predictions for 2011 – Apple: No longer flying under the radar

January 16, 2011

This is the fourth installment of my series covering McAfee’s Threat Predictions for 2011. To make the predictions for 2011 more digestible, I’ve broken each area out to show McAfee’s drilldown on the risk, and what the risk means to you. Click here to read the first, second, and third segments.

From McAfee Threat Report – Apple: No longer flying under the radar

Historically, the Mac OS platform has remained relatively unscathed by malicious attackers, but McAfee Labs warns that Mac-targeted malware will continue to increase in sophistication in 2011. The popularity of iPads and iPhones in business environments, combined with the lack of user understanding of proper security for these devices, will increase the risk for data and identity exposure, and will make Apple botnets and Trojans a common occurrence.

What this means to you

For Apple lovers, the Mac OS and Apple device’s underdog status against PC’s and the Windows OS long served as a hardy defense against criminal exploits – criminals target the largest possible segment for the largest possible return.

But with the Mac OS making stronger inroads, and the advent and mass adoption of  iPhones, and iPads, Apple is facing new threats – much like the general mobile market is now facing. (See Part 3: McAfee Threat Predictions for 2011 – Mobile: Usage is rising in the workplace, and so will attacks).  So it now appears that assuming you’re safe from malware on Apple devices is not longer a safe bet.

To gain some insight into why criminals are taking an interest in Apple, consider the company’s 2010 Sales data (Fiscal year ended Sept 25th 2010) results, it is easy to see why criminal interests are now focusing on these products. In just the past three years, Apple has sold 33.7 million computers, 72.5 million iPhones, and iPad sales are soaring.  Add to that the over 300 thousand applications in the Apple App store and the potential for exploitation becomes even more interesting. (To learn more about threats to the iPhone see Researcher warns of risks from rogue iPhone apps).

The future for Apple users is likely to adopt the same advice that PC users have been given for years. Protect your devices, only download apps from trusted and tested sites, and leverage Safari’s antiphishing, antivirus, and Malware Protection to avoid and block malware.

Linda