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February 4th, 2016

This is the fourth part of the blog series on cyber security, continuing from its third part on Scareware, RogueAV and Ransomware, focussing on the dangers of choosing weak passwords and the consequences of recycling the same password across different online accounts, and a few tips on how to determine a suitably strong password.

In today’s digital age, people’s lives seem to revolve around passwords.  Passwords to online portals play an important role in securing access to a user’s online information, whether financial, professional or personal. Hence, users are perennially advised to always secure their accounts with strong passwords.

Many online portals alert users about inadequate password strength when setting up the login credentials for a user account.  Some online portals may even enforce strong password before the account is set up. Users must consider password depth while deciding on an account’s password to avoid their passwords being hacked easily.

From a security perspective, using the same password for a user’s multiple accounts is dangerous, both for personal accounts as well as in a professional environment.  In this case a hacker need hack only one account to have the credentials to have access to the victim’s other accounts and the sensitive information held therein.

Users should beware the consequences of using weak passwords. Here are a few of the general mistakes which lead to coining weak passwords:

  • Passwords which have been used previously
  • A user’s friend’s or family member’s name or date of birth
  • Favourite food/place name
  • A user’s own name
  • A single word from a dictionary
  • A common name
  • The username reused as the password
  • Keyboard patterns/swipes, etc., e.g. qwerty

Usually hackers try to hack an account by attempting common words as passwords at first, and then with complicated words by combinations. This process, a simple form of “bruteforce attack”, need not be done by hand, but is rather automated using hacking tools. Here is an example to show how much time it would take1 for a hacker to crack a user’s password:

In order to safeguard against these types of attacks, here are few tips on how to choose and maintain a secure password:

  • Use unique passwords for every account, i.e. never repeat passwords across online accounts
  • Use a long, alphanumeric password with punctuation to match the recommended password strength, e.g. Th!sL00ks5trOng:-)
  • Never leave the login session unclosed or to timeout automatically. Logout/Sign-out immediately once the work is done
  • Never share your passwords or any account credentials with others
  • Backup login credentials in different devices/media in encrypted format to avoid data loss in the case of lost/stolen devices
  • Avail of a reputed Password Manager to assist you in managing your passwords

Benefits of using a Password Manager:

  • Password Manager can generate strong passwords
  • It can save your credentials and auto login/fill-in the next time you visit a known site, provided password security is ensured
  • You don’t have to worry about forgetting passwords

Choose a Password Manager that ensures data security by encrypting the passwords.

References:
1. https://howsecureismypassword.net/

Image courtesy of:
commoncraft.com

K7 Threat Control Lab

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January 27th, 2016

We had blogged a few weeks ago about the role that social media played during the recent floods in our home city of Chennai. In that blog we had stated the following:

“Historic rainfall in huge measure broke a century-old record for the highest rain in this region, and the subsequent clogging up of Chennai’s water bodies contributed to the flood situation. Chennai’s infrastructure took a massive hit with transport (road, rail and air), electricity and communication systems (mobile, landline and internet) going down…”

We ought to add that between the 1st and the 8th of December 2015 Chennai was declared a national disaster zone, and that K7 Computing’s own infrastructure was affected during this period due to the absence of power and network connectivity. Our systems were handicapped to the extent that our AV-Test results for the beginning of December 2015 were adversely impacted; both the reported Real-World test misses, one of which was only a partial miss given that HIPS behavioural protection triggered an alert, occurred during the aforementioned time window.

We are, of course, in the process of enhancing redundant systems at alternative geographical locations in order to maintain robust protection.

Samir Mody
Senior Manager, K7TCL

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January 21st, 2016

Following the second part “IoT: Your World at Somebody Else’s Fingertips?” of this series on IoT, here is part three focussing on the privacy of the user’s sensitive information.

Privacy becomes a very important factor to consider when it comes to user-specific data that these IoT devices generate and store locally and/or remotely.

Suppose a user’s IoT enabled medical devices send important data about his/her blood pressure, sugar level and diet information (remember the smart refrigerator!), then the user might experience one or more of the following:

  1. one of the nearest hospitals in his/her city might offer attractive packages for health check-ups
  2. medical information might be shared with pharmaceutical companies for them to offer discounted rates on user-specific medicines
  3. medical information like blood pressure, sugar level etc., will be helpful for a fitness company to target the user for a custom-made discounted fitness package
  4. medical records would be useful for an insurance provider to either stop an insurance pay-out or increase the premiums paid based on direct access to the user’s health report

And much, much more!

In addition one’s TV or set-top box might inform the dish service provider about the type of channels one often watches, such that the service provider could offer you a tailored package to renew the provider’s service. You might not even consider finding out what their competitors can offer! Of course, their competitors might well be following the same strategy with their own customers.

All of a sudden you might get an email from a famous detergent company about a discount sale on their brand of washing powder. That’s right, your IoT-enabled washing machine could have given away some information about your usage habits without your knowledge.

“So what?” “It is good anyway since we would save money and time.” You might say. Hold on one sec! There is also the annoyance factor … unsolicited messaging … spam!! That’s apart from the general leakage of personal information unbeknownst to you.

Image courtesy of:
internetmedicine.com

Senthil Velan
Manager,Vulnerability Research

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January 14th, 2016

Continuing from our previous blog ‘IoT: The World at your Fingertips’ that described the concept of IoT, here is the second part of this blog series that explains the security risks associated with IoT.

Already there are instances where numerous types of IoT devices have been successfully hacked and have been proven to contain security weaknesses. This information demonstrates the point that bad guys can own insecure IoT devices at will or at least retrieve sensitive data easily. Hence it becomes mandatory to be aware of the risks that are associated with IOT enabled devices.

Any device (mostly home appliances) that can be remotely controlled or monitored from the Internet is called an Internet of Things (IoT) device.

Before getting to know the risks of adopting IOT devices, it is important to know what information these devices could hold. One’s

  1. fitness tracker can hold important medical data about one’s health such as blood count, sugar levels, blood pressure, etc., and of course, in turn, one’s general fitness level
  2. pacemaker could carry data about one’s heartbeat
  3. microwave can hold information about cooking patterns and styles; what kind of dishes are cooked in general or on specific days; what food products are used most
  4. washing machine would hold information about clothes-washing patterns, usage of detergents, types of clothes, etc.
  5. TV will know most-viewed programmes, the type of advertisements watched often, the number of hours spent watching movies, etc.
  6. refrigerator can scan the barcodes of the items placed inside. And by scanning the drugs or medicines, the refrigerator could know one’s health profile. It would certainly know one’s eating habits

And much, much more! These are only a tip of the iceberg. The more IOT enabled devices one uses at home, the larger the quantity of private data to be stored on these devices or reported back to a remote repository.

If a stranger has access to Mr X’s IoT devices, he/she can find out Mr X’s lifestyle, Mr X’s food and diet preferences, the programmes Mr X watches often, the movies Mr X likes, the kind of clothes Mr X buys often, whether Mr X has high blood pressure, how Mr X’s health is likely to be next year. And what not?

In recent days this type of personal, private user information definitely yields money when sold on the market! How? Targeted advertising! This implies that IoT users need to be aware of good security hygiene and implement good security practices regularly in order to avoid potentially unpleasant situations post the loss of sensitive data.

…to part3: Privacy

Images courtesy of:
allinclusivemarketing.com
dreamstime.com

Senthil Velan
Manager,Vulnerability Research

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January 7th, 2016

Following the success of our blog series on cyber security, we would like to start a brand new blog series describing the concept of the Internet of Things (IoT) security to create and spread awareness among the general public on being secure in the world of IoT. This is the first part of this series that talks about the basic concepts of IoT to help people to handle IoT in a secured way.

As per Gartner predictions, 6.4 billion connected things, with 5.5 million new things per day, will get connected by 2016. The number of people that can connect to their home appliances remotely and control them from anywhere will increase. Ten years back, connecting to a home microwave or turning on the air conditioner while travelling back home were only part of James Bond movies. Well, these days we can all be 007.

With the advent of mobile operating system technology such as Android and nanotechnology, anyone can control any kind of device remotely using the Internet. Some of the possibilities are:

  1. The air conditioner at home can be switched on/off, and set to a specific temperature while returning back from the office. By the time you reach home, your house will be just as cool as you like it to be.
  2. The washing machines can be turned on so before you reach home the water is filled for you.
  3. The microwave can begin the process of cooking or heating your dinner so that it’s ready to eat at the time of your arrival.
  4. Your fitness tracker can monitor your body blood pressure, sugar levels and body temperature; etc. Your babies can also be monitored with the same fitness devices.
  5. The cameras at your house will let you know the movements inside and outside your home. You can keep watch as required from the comfort of your office … although your boss may not be too pleased with that.

The possibilities and benefits are unlimited but, unfortunately, so are the risks. If you are able to access these appliances remotely, it is also possible for unauthorised parties to access them, if adequate security measures have not been implemented. We will see more about this later in the upcoming parts of this blog series.

Your car, washing machine, pacemaker, microwave, furnaces, refrigerator, household cameras, smoke detectors, light bulbs, and even your watch can play a part in IoT. All of these can be controlled remotely at your fingertips. Interesting, isn’t it?

“With great power comes great responsibility”, applies perfectly to the people who will control their IoT enabled home appliances.

If you think a little bit about how one uses technology to control and command home appliances, it becomes apparent that a single device or app can be used to control them. You only say what needs to be done to these applications and they in turn communicate with the appliances to control them. For example, if you purchase an IOT enabled washing machine, the manufacturer will provide you with an application that can be used to operate your washing machine remotely. You simply install the app on your mobile device (that has an internet connection) and using the buttons within the application, you start operating your washing machine while travelling!

Now, if somebody compromises this application it means they own the IOT appliance. Owning one or more of your home appliances could mean owning your house. Sometimes it could even mean owning you and your family! The “benefits” of controlling your home remotely!

The advertisements generally downplay the risks that are associated with this concept.

The primary benefit of IOT is the ability to manage time more efficiently, given the ability to control and monitor various household stuff remotely. Let’s take the health benefits that these devices are intended to bring. Monitoring blood level, blood pressure etc., were big tasks ten years back, so much so that they required a hospital visit. Now tests can be done everyday, and the results monitored so that you may plan your diet accordingly. Your family physician may also be able to monitor your health parameters and sound the alarm if things go wrong. Fabulous.

However, there is a major problem. If someone compromises the IOT enabled devices, then there is a serious impact on personal privacy and safety for the owner of the device and his/her family. We are going to have around 6.4 billion connected things by 2016! All the better to hack with.

The objective of this blog series is certainly not to spread panic about IoT. IoT is here to stay. However it is important to create and spread awareness on being secure in the world of IOT!

…to part2: Security risks with IoT

Images courtesy of:

1. www.3g.co.uk/g_phones/large/internet-of-things-everything-you-need-to-know.jpg
2.gkapteina.files.wordpress.com/2015/08/efergy-com-blog-iot-explosion-of-connected-things.png

Senthil Velan
Manager,Vulnerability Research

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December 31st, 2015

This is the third part of the blog series on cyber security, continuing from its second part on mobile security, focussing on the malware type that utilizes a user’s fear of data loss to extort monetary benefits, and a few precautionary steps to follow to avoid being a victim of this type of malware.

Scareware


In the modern day most malware are written for monetary gain. Scareware is a generic term to describe a category of malware which use the strong emotion of fear to force alarmed victims of an attack to pay an amount of money, typically tens to hundreds of US Dollars, to the attacker to restore normality on their computer/device.

Examples of scareware include malware which:

  1. display fake messages to the user about virus infections or system errors on the computer for which the fixing solution requires payment of a sum of money
  2. lock-down or claim to have locked-down access to some aspects of computer functionality such as use of the screen or personal documents, for which regaining access involves payment of a sum of money

Scareware typically infect users’ computers through downloading malicious attachments or clicking links in spam, or through accidentally visiting hacked websites.

As always it is important to ensure that you:

  1. Do not open emails from strangers, including fake messages from well-known companies such as FedEx or DHL
  2. Keep your operating system and third-party software, e.g. browsers and document readers, completely up-to-date with security updates. Avoid pirated software
  3. Use top-rate, genuine, up-to-date Anti-Virus software such as K7 Internet Security with strong Internet Security features such as malicious spam blocking, malicious website-blocking and browser-exploit protection

Scareware can affect both PCs (typically with a Windows operating system) as well as mobile devices (typically with an Android operating system which can be protected by K7 Mobile Security).

Rogue AV

Rogue AV or Fake AV is a subset of the scareware category of malware. Rogue AV pretends to be a legitimate Anti-Virus program which proceeds to display fake warnings of numerous virus infections on the computer.The fake warning window may steal the computer’s focus and then remain persistent with the malware preventing attempts to close it. Users are made to believe that only if they fork out a sizeable sum of money would the virus infections be cleaned up and the computer restored to a good state.

Historically Rogue AV has been associated with the use of Search Engine Optimization (SEO) poisoning which ensured that hacked websites controlled by the attackers ranked highly when trending topics were searched for in a web search engine such as Google. When the user clicked on one of these attacker-controlled links the user’s computer would get infected. Rogue AV is most commonly found on Windows PCs, but has also been known to infect MacOS computers.

Ransomware

Ransomware is a type of malware, becoming more common by the day, which denies access to your computer resources until a hefty sum is paid to the criminal gang which caused the infection.

The typical resources held to ransom are as follows:

  1. Personal documents, images, and other files – In this case the files are encrypted so that they become unusable. After the files are encrypted the ransomware displays a splash screen informing the victim of this action and demanding a ransom payment to restore the files. Recovering these files requires obtaining the decryption key from the malware syndicates for a fee amounting to hundreds of US Dollars. Payment is made through guaranteed anonymous channels such as the BitCoin network. The first major ransomware family of this type was called Cryptolocker.
  2. Device screen – In this case the screen is frozen by the malware with a ransom demand visible. The user is allowed to make the payment to unlock the screen. One prevalent family of ransomware which locks the screen is called Reveton.

Users are advised to avoid paying this type of ransom demand for the following reasons:

  1. Generating income for cyber crooks would only serve to incentivise their criminal activities, and would fuel their future attacks
  2. There is absolutely no guarantee that paying up the ransom of potentially hundreds of dollars would actually restore your files or unlock your screen

In addition to the recommendations above, to guard against Scareware in general, it is also important to ensure that you back up your important files in a disciplined fashion on external media and/or on online repositories. If you are not in the habit of backing up your files, this practice is highly recommended since data loss from a failed hard disk at a future date is a probable event, far likely than a ransomware infection.

Happy New Year!

…to part4: Passwords – Hashes to Ashes

Images courtesy of:

Adeevee.com
Huffingtonpost.com
Cloudave.com

K7 Threat Control Lab

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December 24th, 2015

Here is the second part of the blog series on secure computing, following on from part one “Dealing with Spam”. This blog talks about the possible security threats to smartphone users, the need for awareness about these security threats and a few smart steps to adopt in choosing the application market place and downloading an application.

There is a huge increase in smartphone usage year-on-year because it:

  • is trendy
  • helps in easy communication, both business and personal
  • provides portable and easy internet access

Nowadays, almost everything is mobile. A smartphone user is now comfortable in carrying out all his/her day-to-day commercial activities like paying bills, booking tickets, shopping, etc., through the smartphone.

The available major operating systems for the smartphones are Android, Windows Phone, iOS, Blackberry and the growing Tizen.

The security threat level to a smartphone user is increasing at a rate equal to the surge in smartphone usage. Each of the above-mentioned mobile operating systems has had security threats. Android is the one that dominates other mobile operating systems in terms of malware count. Android malware’s growth rate is comparable to that for desktop Windows malware.

Generally, a mobile malware reaches a user’s smartphone through one of the following ways:

  • Social engineering tricks
  • Social networking sites
  • Bundled applications (malware packed with good applications)

As there is a financial transaction involved in many user activities, it is advised to download the concerned applications from the recommended official market rather than downloading from any other third-party market. The reason behind this is that there are many malware or fake applications, especially in third-party markets that steal a user’s personal information like credit card details, contacts list, call logs, etc.,which ultimately result in a financial loss to the user by sending out premium-rate SMS messages that cost money or by downloading other malware applications.

For example, the supposed first iOS malware FindandCall hacks the contacts list from the victim’s device and sends it to a remote hacker. The hacked contacts list is used for sending out spam messages. Adding to this, the recent “Inception” malware identified with Blackberry devices attacks other operating system like iOS, Android and windows computers as well. This malware also collects various device specific information including call logs, contact information, etc.

It is also identified that there are a few malware applications that come pre-installed on new smartphones as well, as in the case of the Android malware “DeathRing”.

A few advertising applications (adware) identified in the third-party markets install themselves as system level applications. After their installation, the adware apps display unwanted advertisements irrespective of the application currently being accessed by the user. There is a possibility that clicking on such advertisements could download a malware application.

Here are a few of the steps to follow before downloading an application:

  • Think twice before you download an application whether you really need it
  • Check any documented usage of the application to ensure that it does not perform any functionality separate from your expectations
  • Verify the reputation of the application by checking the reviews available
  • Avail of the possible application verification feature(s) like “verify apps” in recent Android OSs to identify a malware before installation

In addition the following practices are advised to improve mobile security hygiene:

  • Avoid using free Wi-Fi hotspots, in particular those that are not password protected, especially when conducting sensitive transactions such as online payments
  • Always password-protect access to your smartphone to protect better against data theft if the phone is lost or stolen
  • Install a reputed Mobile Security software such as K7 Mobile Security to stop a malware from infecting your mobile and acting silently in the background.

…to part3: Scareware,Rogue AV & Ransomware

Images courtesy of:

mobileinquirer.com
appmobile.co.za
techmoneyblog.com

K7 Threat Control Lab

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December 16th, 2015

Cyber security, vis-a-vis national security, is high on the agenda of many nations. In fact Prime Minister Narendra Modi emphasises the need for robust cyber defences on a regular basis, both within India and abroad.

The keynote address titled “Securing Our Future” at the recently-concluded AVAR 2015 Security Conference held in Da Nang, Vietnam, by Mikko Hypponen made mention of the fact that cyber attacks are very much a part of a nation’s offensive strategy (typically espionage-related).

Even though most malware are written for financial gain, there is still a significant proportion which is created with a different motive in mind, involving both state and non-state actors. We ought to be expecting an increasing global cyber threat from terrorist organisations over and above the use of social media to communicate with their cadres and potential new recruits, and to attempt to deliver propaganda to the world at large.

Within the scope of the Internet of Things (IoT) our homes are being exposed to the outside world to a far greater extent than ever before. IoT, which involves various internet-enabled embedded utility devices (e.g. a smart fridge) that typically contain various security weaknesses, provides a whole new dimension of opportunity to hostile elements who can conduct attacks from thousands of miles away.

The AVAR 2015 conference, at which K7 Computing presented on ransomware, was well attended by several members of the Vietnamese defence and civil government bodies, as well as local journalists, signifying the emphasis that Vietnam places on the cyber security domain. In addition, the conference was formally supported by the Vietnamese Authority of Information Security.

K7 Computing hosted the AVAR conference a couple of years ago and will do so once again, the details of which will be revealed at a later date and time. Watch this space.

Image courtesy of betanews.com.

Samir Mody
Senior Manager, K7TCL

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December 10th, 2015

Social media played a crucial role in Chennai’s relief efforts during a natural disaster. This blog intends to convey to the general audience what needs to be done afterwards.


Chennai, home to K7 Computing, a metropolitan city in the southern part of India was ravaged by floods last week. Historic rainfall in huge measure broke a century-old record for the highest rain in this region, and the subsequent clogging up of Chennai’s water bodies contributed to the flood situation. Chennai’s infrastructure took a massive hit with transport (road, rail and air), electricity and communication systems (mobile, landline and internet) going down and stalling in the worst affected areas.

Social media played a crucial role in guiding Chennai through this crisis. Once help started pouring in from all corners, it was crucial to direct the help to where it was needed the most. People with relief material posted to social media, while people in the field guided them as to where the materials needed to go. Though internet connectivity was intermittent at best, social media was invaluable in coordinating the relief effort to the stranded and dispossessed.

Relatives who couldn’t contact their kith and kin residing in the affected areas also posted details to social media, so that volunteers or rescue people tending to that area could respond regarding the well-being of those people.

Thus social media was put to a good and effective use at the time of a crisis. But there is always the flip side to a coin; rumors flew across the social medium “warning” that the worst days aren’t over but are yet to come, which led to people fleeing to their hometowns and stocking up essential items to an extent greater than that which was required etc. There were even cases where volunteers with relief materials were misguided to some area only to find that the area had already been tended to, and they had followed a false or repetitively forwarded message. In such troubled times it is ill-advised to fuel such rumors, as the effects can be very serious indeed.

One week after the devastation Chennai is slowly getting back on its feet. People have started clearing out the debris left by the floods. During this time, apart from relief and help, a lot of personal information was also shared via social media. Hence it is advisable that people take some time to clear the personally identifiable information (PII) from their social media profiles, and the sooner the better to avoid forgetting to do it. Though this data would already have been cached somewhere by a search engine it is bound to “fade out” in time once the source is removed. PII revealed online is considered a goldmine for cyber criminals.

The image (adapted to suit the article) is courtesy of timemanagementninja.com.

Kaarthik RM
Threat Researcher, K7TCL

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November 26th, 2015

In the interest of educating the general public about secure computing, we would like to share a blog series that intends to explain the various types of security threats over the Internet and a few precautionary steps to avoid falling prey to these security threats. This is the first part of the blog series that talks about the basic concepts of spam emails, their dangers and a few preventive measures to adopt to deal with them.

The message or email which we receive over the Internet but we never asked for is called spam. Mostly such messages are sent from unknown email addresses, using computer programs called spambots, to a bulk number of users for marketing a product or cheating the user, typically for financial gain. Spam uses social engineering tricks on victims to trick them into performing an action specified in the message.

In recent years the number of spam messages has considerably increased so much that one cannot differentiate them from legitimate messages in one’s inbox.

Spam includes unwanted messages using varied themes like:

  • a person requesting for help
  • being told that we have become a lucky winner of a prize or a victim of blackmail
  • a newsletter that is never subscribed to
  • fake job offers
  • malware
  • obscene material
  • a huge bounty is promised out of the blue from an individual from a different country
  • someone offering a business partnership
  • a claim that we need to prove our identity by logging in or resetting the password of our bank account, email account, etc. This dangerous attack is called “phishing”
  • causing a social issue with fake news
  • offers on weight-loss products, medicines, drugs, etc.,

Spam consumes lots of storage space, internet bandwidth and other resources on a user’s computer or device. It can defame a brand and the products advertised are mostly illegal or banned. Some spam messages may also try to steal the victim’s personal information as in the case of phishing attacks. Apart from exhausting one’s time, and spreading malware, the above-mentioned points provide several other reasons to declare spam to be dangerous. Filtering out spam from our inbox helps us to use email services at ease.

How do we deal with spam? When we suspect an email to be spam, we can:

  • Mark it as spam through the feature available in most of the email service providers

  • Create filters to move emails to a spam folder, thus preventing them from polluting one’s inbox. Filtering is also possible by adding specific email addresses to the ignore list, specific contents in the subject line of the email, etc.
  • report such messages to various spam control authorities
  • use anti-spam software which can block a spam email based on previously recorded spam activities, suspicious titles or content, spam score and various other factors. K7 products contain in-built anti-spam features and also block malware which harvest email addresses from the computer

Additionally, the following safety guidelines are recommended when dealing with spam:

  • Do not open emails that you never expected or suspect to have come from an unknown user. Most certainly don’t respond to such emails
  • Avoid using the “unsubscribe” option that sometimes comes in spam emails as this would intimate to the spammers that your email address is a valid one
  • Do not forward chain emails and suspected spam emails
  • Do not publish your email addresses in public forums and comments sections. Use of temporary email addresses can help to some extent in these cases

We need to realise that changing our email address is not a long-term solution to the spam problem, as email harvesters can obtain one’s email address through various ways. Unless and until, we habituate better Internet practices, we can never learn to safeguard ourselves from spam.

…to part 2: Mobile Security

Images courtesy of:
Marketingland.com
Gfi.net

K7 Threat Control Lab

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