Monday, 22 February 2016

Are Your Apps Stealing Your Data?

Most of us have some kind of smart device, which is why is a great resource for learning about the latest in apps. I appreciate the chance to contribute to the conversation of app security, as privacy is a growing concern. If you’re interested in getting ahead of the curve, check out this article on “What to expect of mobile technology trend in year 2016” when you finish.

Apps perform a nearly endless list of functions. They help us be on time, they entertain us, they do our taxes; I’ve got an app that plays Christmas music to a repeating animation of a fireplace. Whatever it is you need your device to do, someone has (or is going to design) an app for it. The best part? Most of them are free.

But “free” may be an exaggeration. If you’ve looked at the app permissions on an update or new install, you may have noticed some apps have access to an extraordinary amount of functions on your phone or tablet. When you look closely, you might find some oddities, such as a flashlight app requesting permission to view your contacts.

The level of invasion depends on the app and on the type of device. iOS, for instance, allows you to set permissions on a per app basis, as does Windows. Android regrettably does not currently have that function; although, you can manually disable very select features such as your Location.
So this leaves us all with a few questions: what data is being harvested, what is it being used for, and what can you do about it? Let’s take a look.

The vast majority of apps that invade your privacy do so for one sole reason: to monetize. Yes, it’s all about the Benjamin’s, even when we start talking about stealing your data. App developers who provide free apps typically include some types of ads. In order to make those ads effective, they want certain information about you.

The most common information an app takes is probably your specific location. Local ads are considered more relevant and can increase the chances they’ll find something to sell you (and add to revenue). You can combat this by turning off Location, but you’ll naturally lose some functionality of other apps.

However, a few apps will actually use your microphone to help target ads. Watch out for apps that appear to have no voice or microphone functionality, yet still want access to your microphone. This is a bit harder to circumvent (especially for Android), without just not using the app.

Network Access
Some apps need to use the internet to work—it’s pretty expected if you’re playing a game such as Clash of Clans that you’d need access so you can play with other people. But other apps come up on the short end of the stick explaining exactly what they need access for.

As always, the question you need to ask is “why does this app need that access?” My original example of the flashlight app is actually quite notorious, because recently quite a few flashlight apps have been implicated for invading privacy with unnecessary permissions.

Other apps that shouldn’t be requesting that sort of access might include utility based apps, such as a clock, your desktop background, or other utility tools (I’ve got a leveler installed, for instance).
If you absolutely must have apps with unusual network access, beware that they might use up some of your precious data (unless you’re on an unlimited plan). Using up your plan is a double whammy, because you’re actually paying for the invasion of your privacy.

Modifying Contents of Your Storage
 Apps routinely add new features and communicate with servers in remote locations. Sometimes, in order to fully function, they need to save things locally. But can you trust every app you download?
The sheer number of apps available, particularly on Google Play, means not all are verified for their safety. Changing your storage could be anything from saving files to adding malware or leaving room for later exploits. The goal is still likely the same: monetization. After all, identity theft is ultimately a means to take your money.

I’d venture to say your contacts are valuable to you; the same could to be said for certain companies and groups interested in targeting your interests (for profit, of course). This one makes me the least comfortable, because it invades the privacy of more than just you.
Unless the app you’re using is for texting or calling, it earnestly shouldn’t be accessing your contacts. This has been a problem in the past for iOS, which allowed apps to access your contacts in order to make things run more “seamlessly.”

There are a few things for you to do to fight against apps stealing your data. The most basic is to always get apps from an official source and to check their permissions before installing them.
Last year, an exploit in Android allowed hackers to install malware by interrupting the installation process of apps downloaded outside of Google Play, allowing the theft of account information such as passwords and other login details, and eventually financial information.
While this highlights the importance of using official sources, you may also want to consider encrypting your data and hiding your IP address by using a VPN (Virtual Private Network). Stolen information is considerably less useful if it’s encrypted, because it’s unreadable (for all intents and purposes; encryption takes far too long to break to be reasonable).

Minimize Your Risk
Always do some research before jumping on the latest apps? There are some websites which help to check the privacy grade of apps, measures their expected permissions vs. their actual permissions to leverage just how much your privacy is being violated.
Be careful what you’re storing on your device and always assume there is no expectation of privacy. It’s not necessary that you be paranoid, but a healthy amount of suspicion will keep you from giving away more than necessary.

Monday, 15 February 2016

Wearable Technology – How It Is Changing the World

Technology is evolving in every possible manner and the one that is grabbing the attention of tech lovers is wearable technology. Its evolution is slowly expanding from one device to another, from rings to wristbands, from head mounted displays to fashion clothing etc. The journey of wearable devices started around 700 years ago and has now reached a point where most of our wearables are equipped with this technology.

The developments that have taken place in the past few years were purely focused on improving lifestyle and making the lives of people easier. It has not been very long since wearable technology became a mainstream attraction for customers either for taking care of their health or correcting eyesight with smart eye-wear.

There are a number of smart wearable devices that are assisting humans in improving health and lifestyle. Wrist wear, clothing, eye wear, and ear wear etc. the benefits of wearable technology can be obtained in a number of ways. But, what are the wearables that are used by people the most? A survey done to understand the behavior of customers of wearable market shown that wristbands are the devices customers love to wear the most.

1. Fitness Wristbands

Fitness wristbands are the most widely used wearable devices by customers. The recent trend of sale of wearable devices shows that customers are very fond of fitness wristbands. It is a device designed to track every movement of human body performed as an exercise. It provides a track of calories consumed or burned by a person throughout the day, sleep tracking etc. Different machines for tracking physical activities, counting calories can be found easily in fitness centers or gyms, but as wearable technology, wristbands are the most common. As evolution is a part of every technology, wristbands have also gone through some serious transformations. There are wristbands that can individually perform different tasks and those as well which are specialized only for performing only one or two activities such as heart rate monitoring, sleep tracking, swimming, multi-sports etc. It depends on the personal requirement which suits one the best.
Brands like Fitbit, Jawbone, Misfit, Motorola, Oculus, Apple and Microsoft are doing some breathtaking inventions with each passing day in the world of fitness wristbands.

2. Smart clothes Equipped with Wearable Technology

Smart clothes equipped with wearable technology are the new trend. Though the trend of smart clothing is growing slowly, it is becoming the new favorite of fitness freaks. Clothes equipped with sensors are able to monitor every fitness activity closely, and they are far more accurate than other devices in monitoring heart rate, breathing and number of calories burnt etc. because they are closer to the body parts. Problem of washing these clothes may create a problem, but this is also nothing in front of the amazing functionalities these smart clothes are equipped with such as heart rate tracking bra, t-shirt that changes color with heat and sweat, solar jackets that can keep one dry, energized, and charge gadgets as well. Some big brands are trying their hands on the smart clothes to rule this comparatively new market, such as Athos, project Jacquard of Levi’s and Google etc.

3. Smart Eyewear

Glasses have evolved in a whole new way from simple glasses to smart glasses with embedded wearable computers that can do a range of things from correcting vision to providing information about an object which a wearer sees. These glasses control or retrieve data from external and internal sensors, instruments and computers. It also supports technologies such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and GPS. There is an endless pool of possibilities what a smart glass can do.
Many experiments and inventions are being done around augmented reality these days and glasses equipped with this functionality are able to create this augmented world. Smart headsets allow a user to watch videos, play games, navigate and much more without losing sight of physical world. In fact, some eyewear look simple, but are equipped with features such as speakers, microphones, batteries etc.

4. Head Wear
Wearable technology is covering every part of our body including the head. Head wearable devices can be multi-functional; they can be used for tracking of health activities and can also be used to enjoy the amazing experience of virtual reality with special virtual reality headsets. Fitness head wears are smaller and fit well on to the head with the help of an elastic strap. Smart caps are one of the most innovative example of head wear. Head wearable devices such as thync are also playing an important role in managing stress levels, staying calm and energizing the body.

5. Smart Ear-wear

Fitness tracking not only remains limited to wristband or smart clothing, but has moved a step further with smart earwear. This smart earwear looks just like an ordinary ear piece, but it is something extraordinary. The smart earwear is capable of tracking heart rate, calorie count and activity level by easily connecting to iOS and Android smartphones via Bluetooth.
The tracking capabilities of smart earwear are also highly accurate as it remain close to the skin.
Ear wears are not only limited to keeping track of physical activity, but some of them are also helpful in improving health, e.g. there are sleep headphones in the market that are especially designed to improve sleep quality.

Advantages of Wearable Technology
1. Healthcare
The biggest and most advantageous use of wearable technology is in the field of healthcare. When it comes to calculation of heart rate, calorie count, breathing rate, respiration rate, and sleep quality etc., there are numerous devices which are simple to use and provide very accurate calculation of each and every thing. But, technology is not limited to only these small things, in fact some bigger physical calculations such as heart rate recovery, brain control, etc. can also be nicely done with devices equipped with wearable technology.
This will in turn put many positive effects on our society such as reduced medical expenses, because a disease would be identified at an early stage, and better accuracy of medical diagnosis.

2. Security
Smart glasses equipped with wearable technology has the ability to scan the whole information about an individual. This technique is going to act as a boon for policemen and security personals in future. Because, they will be easily able to find out the suspect and each relevant information about him just with the help of a smart glass.

3. Fitness Trainer
Clothes and wearables equipped with sensors to provide information like calories burnt, sweating, heart rate, and running pace etc. are no less than a fitness trainer for an individual. If a person is aware about small things regarding his health such as number of calories he is required to consume or burn, the kind of food he should eat etc., then a person can easily take good care of his health only with the help of wearable devices, without the need of any physical trainer.

4. Quick
Gadgets equipped with wearable technology produce quick and immediate responses. If you are using a smart watch, it keeps you updated about the latest notifications and important emails that may be difficult for you to track immediately without it. Fitness trackers also simultaneously record the changes that occur in body while exercising. So, these smart devices are really quick as well.

5. Virtual Reality or Gaming
The major advantages of wearable devices that cannot go unnoticed are gaming and virtual reality. The technology of virtual reality is rising constantly, it also becomes the new favorite of the big tech giants to make devices around this technology. Virtual Reality headsets such as HTC Vive, Razer OSVR, Oculus Rift are some of the headsets that will launch in the market in 2016. Seems like VR gaming is the unstoppable trend in the coming times.

6. Enhance Connectivity
Though, the devices like smartphones, computers are designed to keep us connected with the whole world, but wearable devices are those that have the capability to enhance this connectivity by informing about all the latest happenings of the world on an immediate basis. With wearable smart gadgets such as smart watch, a person is very less likely to miss any important email or information.

The advantages of wearable technology do not end here, in fact this is just the beginning. As the New Year has arrived, the big tech giants have prepared in advance for giving some pleasant surprises to customers in 2016 by providing wearables with advanced technologies and better functionalities.
We may also get to see a number of new wearable devices in future, but those that are ready to hit the market in 2016 are mentioned below, take a look:
1. Fitbit Blaze
2. Altra IQ Smart Shoes
3. Hidn Tempo – the stress manager
4. Second Gen HTC Vive, Oculus Rift and many more virtual reality headsets
Technology is growing at such a rapid pace that it is really difficult for us to cover each and every device which is going to make a valuable contribution to the market of wearable tech in 2016. But, we will try to cover the most awaited ones in our next post. So, stay tuned with us because we will keep you updated with all the happenings in the world of wearable technology.