Category: Telephony

Ransomware (malware) on Cell Phones


ransomeWe thought that our cell phones were safe from ransomware, like CryptoLocker, which has been infecting hundreds of thousands of computers in the U.S.  Not so!  A recent article in CNet Daily News reports that there are as many as 5,000 attacks per day.  A mobile threat report from Mobile Lookout Security, which makes security software for smartphones, found 4 million of Lookout’s 60 million users were held hostage last year.  In 2014 they report a 75% increase in mobile threats in the U.S.  You can read about the most prevalent malware at the end of the post, below.

The article tells the story of  a 12-year-old girl from Tennessee who tapped a link on her smartphone to watch a new music video.  Instead of a video, she had unwittingly installed malicious software that downloaded child pornography, locked her Android phone, and threatened to report the pornography to the FBI if she didn’t fork over $500 in ransom.

What should you do to protect yourself?

1)  Never download applications from outside the official Google Play store or Apple App Store.  Be careful clicking on links when online.  “Free” could wind up being very expensive.  Keep that in mind when on social media sites.

2)  Install an application that will block ransomware.  Avast (free for mobile) and Mobile Lookout Security are two big players.  Note item #1 above before downloading software which will allegedly protect you, from an unknown source.

3)  Never pay the ransom, and always report the crime to police.  There is no track record to show that paying ransom will lead to removal of the malware and release of your mobile device. In most cases, you are only providing incentive for thieves to continue to create new and more sophisticated software.

It’s an even more dangerous computing world out there than it was just a year ago.  Be extra careful out there!!

The most prevalent ransomware threats in 2014, according to Mobile Lookout Security:

  1. NotCompatible| Malware

​NotCompatible is a trojan that surreptitiously acts as a network proxy.  It allows attackers to send and receive traffic through a victim’s mobile device onto connected networks for fraudulent purposes.

  1. Koler| Malware

Koler is a trojan disguised as a media app.  It locks a victim’s device, after falsely reporting the discovery of illegal activity.  Koler attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.  The CNet article advises that police can tell that you are not the “guilty party” so don’t be afraid to report.

  1. ScareMeNot| Malware

ScareMeNot is a trojan that pretends to scan victims’ phones for security issues.  It then locks their device, after falsely reporting that its scan found illicit content. It attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.  Again, report this to police.

  1. ColdBrother| Malware

ColdBrother is a trojan that pretends to scan victims’ phones for security issues, but then locks their device after falsely reporting that its scan found illicit content. It can also take a front-facing camera photo and attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.

  1. ScarePakage| Malware

ScarePakage is a trojan that pretends to scan victims’ phones for security issues and then locks their device after falsely reporting that its scan found illicit content. ScarePakage attempts to coerce victims into paying them to avoid criminal charges and regain control of their device.

Notice that each of these Trojans are very similar.  It’s rumored that there is one very talented programmer who is being well paid by various criminal organizations to keep creating variations of the malware, in order to stay ahead of detection software.  Notice that each are “socially engineered” to make you want to run the software voluntarily.  So even if you don’t click on a malicious link out of ignorance, you can still fall victim.

BlackBerry Z10

In the past, I only used and recommended BlackBerry mobile phones for business use, because of the better security and business apps.  That was until I threw my 3rd BB out of the window of a moving car!  There has been just one too many frustrations with synchronizations gone awry and corrupting my dataset, an inability to respond to “dial by name” menu choices on telephone systems, and all too frequent inexplicable freeze-ups.  One day it froze up and frayed that final nerve.  I rolled down the window, and took great satisfaction in throwing it out.  My husband was astounded.  “You didn’t really do that, did you?”  By then my blood pressure was immeasurably lowered, my reptile brain gave way to rational thought, and I responded, “Yep, can you pull over?  I need to retrieve it and wipe the confidential data.”  After the data was wiped I put on glasses, took out my mallet, and gave it a sound and very satisfying whack.  It feels good just remembering it.

A lot of time has passed since then.  I became an iPhone user.  Now, let me assure you that I’m not one of those MAC-head fanatics.  In fact, I don’t even own an Apple computer.  But I DO have an iPad which I adore.  Here’s the thing about the iPhone.  It works.  Simply, intuitively (for the most part) it just works.  I’ve never had a synching issue.  I have had to reboot about 3 times in 5+ years, which has included 2 different models.

Using the touch screen for typing took some time to get used to.  Mostly that’s because of my beautiful long fingernails.  Great for hard keys, but impossible for soft keys which require heat from a fingertip.  It’s like trying to walk on stilts — my actual fingers are about 1/2″ away from the screen at all times.  I had to learn to use a stylus or the side of my fingers.  But aside from that, I have to say my experience has been great.  I even catch an occasional episode of my beloved HGTV on it when I am having lunch alone on the road.

The apps are all-inclusive in terms of what is available; virtually anything you can ask for.  Most are high quality, at least of the ones I have used.  So my long-term relationship with Apple has been very productive and pleasant thus far.  Yet . . .

There’s the new BlackBerry Z10.  Thus far it is disappointing analysts in numbers.  That’s because the market now has another major player in the form of Android, which makes a lot of other phones more desirable.  I predict that Android will eventually dominate the market in terms of operating system.  Windows has also started to take a bite out of the marketplace.  So the BlackBerry has lost a lot of momentum, and faces stiffer competition than before.  Yet . . .

BlackBerry Z10 is now marketing itself not as a business tool, which was always their niche.  They are marketing the BB-Z10 as “Fun re-invented.”  Huh?  BB was never known for being fun.  The Z10 features stuff like Time Shift for photograph improvement, and Video calls with Screen Share for on-the-fly face-to-face communications with sharing of documents and photos.  These are some seriously Apple-like innovations.  So UN-businesslike, and it looks easy.  (Look being the operative word!)  Who knows what the future holds?  It’s worth a look, and maybe more thought.  Wish I could take a test drive.

Review of Changes in Latest Apple iOS

One of my favorite blogs is iPhone J.D.  It’s the place to turn to for all things Apple, related to the use of the iPhone and iPad by lawyers.  Their recent blog post, “Apple Releases iOS 6.1” covers every change in the update, with clear screen shots and explanations.  It’s everything you want to know, and more, clearly written.

VoIP — Call Quality is Key

Not all VoIP telephone systems deliver the same sound quality.  That’s OK if you’re using it to talk to family members and friends around the country or across the globe.  Choppy connections with dropped words, noise on the line, echoing, and outright disconnections can be common with a low-quality system.  But heck, when you’re paying a low monthly fee for all-you-can-eat calling, you simply endure, or hang up and redial.  No big deal. 

On the other hand, when you’re using your VoIP telephone system to connect with clients, prospects, peers and referral sources, poor quality is decidedly not fine!  Put another way, if a client asks if you’re calling from a submarine, that’s a clue that sound quality is an issue.

Back in August, I announced that I had won a new telephone system in a post uncreatively titled “We Won a New VoIP Telephone System!!!”  I promised to report regularly once cutover happened.  There were some delays before that actually happened.  The telephones which were to be deployed were a new model.  It took  much longer than anticipated for them to get shipped.  But the wait seemed worth it, based on some of the anticipated features available.  But when they finally arrived, the provider could not get them properly configured and working reliably, and refused to send them to me knowing they were imperfect. 

What a welcome change from the experience most consumers have today.  Admit it, you know you’ve been the beta site for more than one device or software package.  Sure, the vendor knows it won’t work right,  But that doesn’t stop them from delivering it to you, in exchange for your hard-earned dollars, and then trying to work through it on your dime.  Meanwhile, you endure the hiccups.  So while it was annoying to wait so long, I was actually relieved to hear that a different manufacturer and model was going to be deployed, because it’s track record was that it worked reliably.  And in fact it did.

The first thing which was clear upon installation — crystal clear, in fact — was the sound quality of each call.  The previous system suffered from choppy calls, dropped calls, and bathyspherish sound and echoing.  But those were “distinct” experiences, meaning not on every call.  I thought the calls which did not have any of these issues were decent.  I heard the person on the other end, and they heard me.  However, when I compare the sound quality of the former system with that of the current system, there is just no comparison at all.  It’s like comparing the sound from a Bose headset to a cheap <$20 headset from the local big box store.  They’re not in the same class. 

The clarity of sound on virtually every call is startling.  I never thought that there could be such a significant, noticeable difference.  I was wrong.

First, it’s a full-duplex conversation, meaning that sound can go in both directions simultaneously.  Most telephones operate in half-duplex mode.  That means that sound can only travel in one direction at a time.  If you’ve ever found yourself screaming into the phone because the other person keeps talking on and on and you’re trying to comment, but they can’t seem to hear you, you’ve experienced the joy of half-duplex.  And even if you have a full-duplex conversation through your handset, in all likelihood when you use the telephone’s speaker, you are in half-duplex mode.  (Most firms buy a Polycom or similar equipment for conference rooms in order to get a full-duplex conversation. )  Imagine having full-duplex all the time.

But the clarity isn’t just about full versus half duplex.  It’s about the elimination of noise on the line, echo-cancellation, and so forth.  This vendor is using a router which enables them to constantly monitor the quality of the connection, and make adjustments automatically.  I’m convinced that this higher quality router is a key to consistent quality.

I’m not sure that I mentioned yet who my new telephony provider is.  So let me introduce you to Alteva.  I’ll have a lot more to say in the coming weeks and months.

We Won a New VoIP Telephone System!!!

I I have friends who are lucky. They win prizes at Expos, buy lucky lottery tickets, purchase the winning raffle ticket. Me?  Nadda. Zip.  Zero. Bupkas.  I never win a thing.   Well, let me rephrase that to past tense: never won a thing . . . until now! I submitted an entry on a whim, and actually won a shiny new telephone system.  Unbelievable but true.  You can read about it here

Ironically, I was informed about the contest on a day which so happened had me at odds with my current telephony provider.  They haven’t been awful by any means.  But there have been issues.  Well, not just issues, but rather defining issues which have separated the wheat from the chaff, so to speak.  For example, when a storm knocked out the server which powered our telephones, there was no automatic cutover to another co-location, even though they had one.  We had no telephones for several days, and I didn’t know it because I was on the road giving seminars. 

I was pretty upset, as you can imagine.  The thought of even one missed prospective client call was unacceptable.  My vendor was pretty cavalier in response.  Seems it was our problem for not having given them specific instructions to automatically switch us over.  Um, excuse me?  Isn’t that one of the questions that should have been asked during set-up of service?  Shouldn’t you apologize for the oversight, rather than blame the customer?

I’m not sure which of several issues occurred the day I heard about the contest, but that is of no consequence.  What mattered is that I cogently stated why my telephone system is mission critical, and why I did not feel I was getting everything I wanted and needed.  Next thing I knew, months after my submission was long forgotten, I was informed that I had won.

Winning isn’t everything.  I was not about to jump from a frying pan into a fire.  I wanted to know everything about what I had won before deciding to accept it.  I was probably the most wary winner they could have picked!  I asked about everything you can imagine, and more, to ensure that we would move to a system and vendor which offered richer features and greater reliability. 

Our cutover is imminent, and I will be reporting regularly on how it goes.  Stay tuned!

Are Your Apple Apps Crashing?

I have been having a lot of difficulty downloading and updating my iPhone software and apps.  I thought it was just me until I came upon a recent article in CNET Daily News pointing a finger at the App store.  If you’re having a problem, you may want to report it to Apple, instead of just assuming you’re the only one with the problem, or it’s just a temporary glitch.

Recently I received a survey from Apple to complete.  They may regret requesting my feedback, because it was far from positive.  Let me say that I unequivocally love my iPhone and iPad.  I never thought I’d say that, at least not publicly.  But I know a good tool when I use it.  I have never regretted that my “last straw” frustration with my Blackberry caused me to throw it out the car window.  My husband was astonished, to say the least.  I had been a loyal, but increasingly frustrated, Crackberry addict through three models in a row.  It was a mostly-reliable but frustratingly limiting business tool.  Everything beyond the usual was such a hassle to accomplish.  I felt like the phone was purposely interfering with my ability to be more productive.

My reticence to use the iPhone was mostly based on security concerns.  But I made the leap regardless.  From day one, without so much as a helpful guide to follow, I was more productive than all those years using a Blackberry.  Everything was faster, more intuitive, and more fun.  That being said, my frustration with the App store has been ongoing since purchase.  S L O W W W W W  That about says it all.  It is the slowest darned app to load, connect, navigate, download, update, and whatever else I need to do. 

If Apple is smart, it will take heed of the customer dissatisfaction in this area, and make some improvements.  Since there seem to be some quality issues, it’s time for an overhaul of it’s worst single point of failure.  Want to hasten the process?  Make sure you let Apple know if you’re experiencing similar problems.

Win a Cloud-Based High-Tech Telephony Makeover

A friend of mine is in marketing, and recently contacted me regarding a contest one of her clients is holding.  The contest depends on how well you can bitch, er, I mean vent about how bad your telephone system is.  If you do a good job of it, you could win a cloud-based makeover.  Here’s the promo for the contest, which I’ve already entered (hey, I can “vent” with the best of them):

What could be better than venting? Well, as far as Greater Philadelphia businesses are concerned, maybe one thing — getting something free & valuable for it. Which brings us to a red-hot, cloud-based (and, take note, currently hiring) Unified Communications solutions provider named Alteva, which, to have a little fun—because, let’s face it, not every business story has to be as dry as chalk — has launched its My Phone Stinks essay contest.  One lucky company in the Greater Philadelphia area (including the following counties: Philadelphia, Montgomery, Delaware, Chester and Bucks, PA; Mercer, Burlington, Camden, Gloucester and Salem, NJ; and New Castle, DE), will get a high-tech makeover.  We’re talking a prize for one year that’s worth nearly $41,000 in cutting-edge equipment, installation fees and UC service simply by having an employee visit and submit an essay explaining why — no cursing, please! — your firm’s existing system is just nothing to phone home about.

Note that the value of the prize, as I found out when I explored the site, is based on the maximum number of telephones & licenses possible.  The reality is that the value is about $44/person/month.  But that includes a high-tech VoIP and Microsoft Exchange and Sharepoint package, and unified messaging.  Not shabby at all.  Good luck!


Smoking Hot News from Mobile World Congress

Today’s issue of CNET News is smoking hot.  It has a review of the 26 hottest phones and tablets shown at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain.  There’s an article about the new Nokia 41-megapixel camera phone with digital zoom.  And there’s a great video offering a sneak preview of the new Windows 8 beta operating system.  Touch screen is but one new feature.  Wholly molly, this tech addict needs to start breathing into a paper bag to calm down.

Wash Hands Before Using Phone

Once in a while I read something that just makes me outright laugh.  I especially love when it concerns our use of technology.  This is one of them.

A recent article on C-Net Daily News entitled “‘Reverse smudge engineering’ foils Android unlock security” explains how an Android user with greasy fingers left his unlock pattern visible for others to hack.  Fortunately, they were colleagues, because it took them only minutes to bypass his security thanks to his greasy screen.

Really?  We have to worry about washing our hands before using our phone now?  Check it out.

Sour Grapes from Microsoft?

I just love the recent article in C-Net News about Windows Phone chief Andy Lees throwing stones at the iPhone and Android.  However, consumers thus far have seen things differently.  Microsoft’s sales have been lukewarm thus far — way below expectations.  Whereas the iPhone is flying off the shelf, and the Android is consistently growing market share. 

Sour grapes?  Sure sounds like it.  But we’ll hear from an expert I (and apparently Microsoft,too)  trust in the near future as to  how these phones really compare.  My partner, Jennifer Ellis, is being provided with a new Microsoft phone gratis for evaluation purposes.  Jennifer is currently using an Android.  She used an iPhone extensively before that.  And she is eminently fair and objective.  I can’t wait to read about it on her blog after she’s run it through its paces.

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