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Does Buying a Chinese Smartphone Pose a Privacy Risk?

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Chinese smartphones have garnered a pretty bad privacy reputation in the last few years, which stems from several issues, such as lack of consumers’ trust and the fact that global political events have not really been in China’s favor. Somewhere around the mid-2010s though, China’s global image changed a lot for the better, especially with their appearance in the smartphone industry and when it comes to advances in 4G and 5G technology.

The smartphone industry is one of the fastest growing sectors in the global technology industry. Particularly in the last decade, which gave us the smartphone revolution, global device sales have skyrocketed from just 100 million in 2007, to over 1.5 billion today. Smartphones are also the most popular way through which people access the internet, which makes this sector critical for tech companies.

14 years ago now, we experienced the launch of the first Apple iPhone in 2007, which would undoubtedly mark the beginning of a new Information Age. As the years went by, we have seen big players such as Samsung entering the market, as well as most recently Chinese companies like Huawei and Xiaomi eating up global market share with their very affordable smartphones. It isn’t just Huawei and Xiaomi, though, let’s not forget Oppo and Vivo too, who have held small but stable market share, even gaining popularity in the United States.

Apple never really took off in China like it did in the rest of the world, as the nation favoured national production and local brand loyalty, but Apple has always been in demand there. Outside of China though, Apple had absolutely dominated the smartphone market for a long time with the entire world anxiously awaiting their next press conference, and what their new iPhone would be like. The market dominance then switched hands between Apple and Samsung for a few years, with Samsung being dominant most of the time.

Now, however, the global smartphone market has changed. With so much competition on the horizon (Samsung, Xiaomi, Huawei), as well as Apple charging very lofty prices for their latest offerings (and having lost some of their charm along the way with radical design changes), Chinese players have adapted and grasped a firm hold on the market for the foreseeable future. Offering familiar minimalist design approaches that Apple is known for, as well as having totally revamped their marketing, Chinese smartphone brands are now a true contender to the established giants. Ultimately, the most important target market for Chinese smartphones is the US and EU markets.

There is a big problem there though, it looks like there are serious privacy issues that plague Chinese smartphones and their reputation. Let’s look into this below.

What Is The Problem With Chinese Smartphone Brands?

With news of Huawei being banned (Xiaomi is also blacklisted) from Western countries, their reputation is not in a good place. Today, there are many Chinese smartphone brands available, with Huawei and Xiaomi being the most recognizable internationally -the ones that have sold the most outside of China. Some of the other ‘budget’ brands are Honor and Realme, for example, which may not be known to most people. There are many more Chinese smartphone brands, but way too many to list.

With so much political tension between the US and China, what does this mean if you are planning to buy/already own a Chinese smartphone? Unfortunately, it is a fact that Chinese smartphones have experienced many privacy and security related issues with their devices, which fall into the categories;

  • Pre-installed spyware
  • Malware vulnerabilities
  • Data theft
  • Hardware ‘Backdoors
  • Weak encryption

Beyond pre-installed malicious software in Chinese smartphones, there are additional risks from installing very popular Chinese-made social media apps, such as;

  • TikTok
  • WeChat

Takeaways For Your General Smartphone Security

Having covered why there is so much negative buzz around Chinese smartphones and their privacy risks, let’s remember that a lot of it comes from the political tension between China and the US. There have been countless allegations of spying, hacking and data risks. Beyond this, there is a more important fact for the regular user. It is that Chinese phones are Android-based, which has a much larger user base and is as such more susceptible to attacks.

Let’s emphasize one thing; yes, that doesn’t mean that these devices are safe, but what is safe nowadays? Should this deter you, a regular citizen, from buying a Chinese smartphone? It is difficult to say what is considered ‘safe’ nowadays, and depends a lot on who you are and whether your data is so sensitive that governments will try to access your phone (for most people, this is not an issue).

However, for the privacy conscious individuals out there, there are some things you must implement for your safety and peace of mind, no matter what kind of device you use, or which country it comes from;

  • Always use a trustworthy Virtual Private Network, or VPN
  • Consider that iOS may be safer than Android overall
  • Make sure that you have a strong password on your phone
  • Ensure that you have multi-factor authentication at every juncture
  • Do not share sensitive information online if possible
  • Always keep your smartphone software up-to-date
  • Never download unverified software, or access third-party app stores

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Antivirus and Firewall “Security” Measures are OBSOLETE in 2021 – and it’s getting worse

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“Just Because You’re Paranoid Doesn’t Mean Someone Isn’t Trying to Hack You.”

Last year was “perhaps the most active year in memory” with regard to cyberattacks, according to Sunnyvale, California-based cybersecurity technology company CrowdStrike, a respected firm providing cyberattack response services, threat intelligence, and an annual Global Threat Report (paywall) on the state of web security. The world went through hell with Covid in 2020, but for web miscreants, the year was awesome as they preyed on our misery, pretending to offer information, and impersonating important global pandemic responders such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO). Malicious actors had a phishing field day in 2020 – which, naturally, works best when there an emotional connection. How many times have we heard of someone losing money to fraud after getting an email from a “friend in distress”?

Of course, it’s a good bet that CloudStrike’s 2022 report will list ’21 as the “most active year” since…well, the year before. Moore’s Law and all the fun math of exponentiality doesn’t only apply to things we enjoy such as Apple’s M1 processor, but also to the malware, cyberattacks, and security breaches that come with technological advances. Nearly every, if not every, electronic device that has an internet connection can be hacked; and can often be hacked when it’s either on or offline.

Many are switching to safe browsers such as Firefox Focus or Qustodio Free. Experts, however, are recommending adding even more layers of protection to your digital life by installing a safe browsing app that works with all the big browsers. Safe browsing apps – many of which are free to download – double-check that the site you’re visiting is legit, vet and scan apps and files in real-time, protect your Wi-Fi network, offer anti-phishing protection, and allow you to build a “blacklist” of sites you want blocked – keeping your kids safe from “adult content.” Using a safe browser app is proactive – stopping things before they happen, not catching them after the fact.

So-called “malicious actors” (simply put: bad guys) have and are stepping up their game. CloudStrike’s report noted that in 2020, there was a significant increase in extortion and blackmail techniques all nicely bundled into ransomware operations. The security firm warns that 2021 will likely see more of what it terms, “big game hunting” – e-criminals going after larger firms as the potential return is larger. Also of interest was a note on malicious actors forming alliances; working in tandem to level up and coordinate their attacks.

However, even if you don’t happen to be the CEO of a large corporation with data that would be worth ransoming, cybersecurity gurus are warning anyone with a computer to start realizing that “the good old days” of flying under the radar with half-baked security measures are gone for good – you might not even be the target but could end up being used by identity thieves to cause serious harm to a friend or acquaintance. You don’t need to be “someone” or even have valuable data to be targeted, and to think otherwise is to fundamentally misunderstand how wild the web of the 2020s has become. Think back to the last time a friend of yours told a tale of their account being hacked. Weren’t you somewhat surprised as they aren’t famous or rich? – When was the last time you gave serious thought to the safety of your personal data? If your company hired a “white hat” to stress test your firm’s web security, how well do you think it would hold up? The question ‘Is this website safe?’ is getting harder to answer.

Too many downplay the risks of a data breach. “Why would anyone want my ‘boring’ info?” people ask. Well, there are serious reasons such as identity theft, fraud, or phishing attempts, but there’s also a lot of money to made in collecting information. Harvesting data is big business. They’ll take info on everything from the language you use, your screen resolution, operating system, time zone, active plugins, browser type…you name it. By breaking down you – and the millions of others like you – into data points that can be categorized, you are now a target for precision missile advertising strikes. Being tracked keystroke by keystroke as you shop, bank, email, and enjoy online entertainment isn’t just creepy; it’s potentially dangerous. Predators prey on the weak. Why allow yourself to be a target?

There are some scary stats out there: 300,000 new pieces of malware are reportedly created every day. Cybercrime is more profitable than the illegal drug trade! Over 60 percent of businesses that get hacked say they aren’t sure they’ll ever fully recover. Anti-virus software or firewalls are as effective as a sieve, etc. It’s human nature to overestimate one’s web knowledge. Sure, you don’t click on links that look fishy and, heck, you might have even ponied up for a VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN, however, only conceals your location, data-in-transit, and IP address. VPNs are not the fortresses we think they are, however. Via browser fingerprinting (look that term up if you’ve never heard of it) a leak that shows your online identity is still a possibility. You need multiple layers of protection, and you need them now. To paraphrase a famous quote, “You Might Be Paranoid, but that Doesn’t Mean Someone Isn’t Trying to Hack You.”

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Moscow innovation ecosystem became prize-winner of Quality Innovation Award 2020

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The Moscow Innovation Ecosystem program dedicated to testing innovative solutions became a prize-winner of the international Quality Innovation Award Forum in the Public Sector Innovations category.

The program lets designers test their technologies at the city and business sites. Over 50 draft solutions were tested in the course of the program existence.

The program makes it possible for designers to test their technologies at the city and business sites before being released to the market, and for the authorities and potential contractors — to analyze the effectiveness of those technologies.

‘The project makes it possible to study Russian and international practices in the field of smart cities and state management, analyze impact of different technologies on the quality of life in the city. Piloting of projects helps evaluate the practical use of new solutions for citizens,’ remarked Eduard Lysenko, Minister of the Moscow Government, Head of the Moscow Department of Information Technologies.

Among those tested projects are a self-driving taxi, a hand exoskeleton, a spatial reasoning system for persons with sight disability, VR-technologies in education, an application for museum visitors that allows uploading information about exhibits to a smartphone.

‘The jury of the competition underlined the unique conditions that Moscow created for the authors of high-tech solutions. The prize-winner program gives designers a chance to test the viability of their solutions and get comprehensive feedback from the target audience. Last year, we got over 600 requests from entrepreneurs for testing various products,’ Natalya Sergunina, Deputy Mayor of Moscow said.

The framework of the program lets the dedicated specialists choose the most promising and urgent projects. Once the project is chosen, a testing site shall be determined.

‘Thanks to the Moscow innovation ecosystem, the capital of Russia is one of the most active cities in terms of innovations that undergo testing. Today, over 100 state and business sites participate in the program. Banks, retail chains, communication services providers, production enterprises, medical institutions, high schools, IT corporations and other companies are among them,’ added Alexey Fursin, Head of the Moscow Department of Entrepreneurship and Innovative Development.

While testing, the designers get the expert support, access to the infrastructure in order to test the solution practically with many potential users and recommendations for adapting the product for certain clients.

The Quality Innovation Award has been held since 2007 by Finnish Association for Quality in cooperation with partner companies from Russia, China, Czechia, Estonia, Hungary, Israel, Latvia, Lithuania, Serbia, Spain, Sweden and other countries. Over 400 innovations were submitted for awarding in 2020, 25 of them were prized.

The Moscow Agency of Innovations is the operator of the pilot innovation testing program. It unites representatives of the authorities and business society with technological companies so that they could jointly create, testing implement innovative solutions.

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Checking People: Why a Background Review Service Could Save Your Company

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From “sins of omission” to full-on deception; professional “Check People” help uncovers all

The Oscar-winning drama “Parasite” by Korean director Bong Joon Hodepicts a family using Photoshop and other techniques to forge documents and gain employment from a wealthy couple as tutors, a housekeeper, and a driver. In the film, the obscenely wealthy and horribly naïve couple trust a single reference from a trusted friend – and forego background checks. The story does not end well; to say the least.

These days, a claim you graduated from Harvard is very likely going to be double-checked; but it’s the more minor claims that sometimes slip through the cracks. The person who claims to have graduated from Concordia College and University of Delaware, for example. Concordia looks legit and the claim hardly seems worth checking. But how would you feel after you learn that Concordia (sometimes of Delaware, sometimes of Dominica, etc. –They change addresses and websites as needed) is listed as a so-called “diploma mill” that grants degrees based on “life experience.” Concordia will scream to the heavens that it’s accredited and legal, but courts have deemed otherwise and people have gotten into serious legal trouble for using such degrees – some of which cost less than US$300. A comprehensive background check would easily flag such a “graduate.”

Put simply, background checks work by using proprietary algorithms to conduct online searches of public databases as well as deeper inquiries into online content to find a “reel” of data on an individual. Reviews of CheckPeople background check service shows the cost of a serious background check is a pittance when compared to the trouble an unverified person could end up costing a company.Background check service companies might also check the prospective employees’ immediate relatives or even extended family to discover any connections that the person has not disclosed that you would rather know about.

Avoid Legal Troubles and Hits to Your Reputation by Doing Background Checks

Using fake degrees are becoming less common as, you know…Google. But human beings are human beings, and so-called “sins of omission” are too-often the rule rather than the exception. And it’s surprising to learn how common deliberate deception is – one report found that almost 60 percent of all resumes include incorrect, misleading, or otherwise false information. Some things are hard to falsify: a hospital in 2021 is unlikely to, say, hire a fake brain surgeon, but the person who you’re considering for your small or medium-sized business could lead to serious problems – unless you invest in a good background check service. There’s plenty that can be falsified and the way to avoid being burned is by hiring a firm with the know-how and reputation to do a real look into a person’s past.

It might not seem like a big deal when a person falsely claims on a resume that they have been certified in such-and-such an area; until an accident or incident happens in that particular area – opening up your company to lawsuits. “Negligent hiring” is the cause of many a lawsuit claiming negligence due to a company hiring an employee who perhaps falsified an accreditation or certification in some specific area. Employees from janitors to drivers are in positions that could lead to incidents affecting your company. The first thing the lawyer on the other side of the table is going to ask – if an incident should occur is, “Did you run a background check before hiring this individual?” If not, the jugular “negligent hiring” vein is exposed for the claws of legal retribution.

“Trust, But Verify” is a Very Wise Plan: People Don’t Advertise Their Flaws

Many offenses don’t make the news and aren’t uncovered by simple searches.  Perhaps there was an altercation with a neighbor that didn’t lead to criminal charges but was reported, and indicates a propensity towards violence. Perhaps there was a write-up by a supervisor over some negligence that, again, didn’t make the papers, but is buried in someone’s deeper background. Perhaps they’ve transgressed in some financial way that is pertinent to your industry. Perhaps they have a substance abuse problem that you’d rather not be liable for.

This is why you need professional help and the best plan is to get a background check that vets thoroughly and completely, giving you peace of mind that there are no old forgotten accounts, blog posts, or other real-life or webskeletons in closets that could do great damage to your company’s reputation.

You will want to use a reputable background check service that ensures no stones are left unturned. Public records such as criminal charges, marriages, divorces, addresses, and other simple things are easy to find, but there are also harder, “deep web” searches. These involve looking into possible aliases, possible unreported presences on social networks, and a boatload of other possibly incriminating data. It’s easy to imagine a simple background check finding a criminal charge, but how easy would it be to find white supremacist comments left by someone using a fake identity on a social media site?

Make Sure the Background Check Company You Hire is Legit

Authentic background check sites offer various financial plans thatsuit your budget. But more important than money; is the background check company itself legitimate? Keep in mind the United States Fair Credit Reporting Act prohibits the use of background checks for potential employees without informing them beforehand and having them agree in writing. Any background check company worth its salt will inform you of the law beforehand.

The main point is simple. People don’t volunteer negatives. Resumes are written to show a person’s most positive aspects. It is therefore incumbent on the employer to run a complete background check. Luckily, we now live in a digital age where it’s become easier than ever to instantly uncover traces of information that just a few decades ago would have been nearly impossible to uncover – if you invest in a complete background check from a reputable source.

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