Third-Party Apps And Other Places Hackers Hide: Are You Safe?

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There is a hacker attack every 39 seconds on an average. And as of 2013, there have been 3,809,448 records stolen from data breaches. Needless to say, it’s not a matter of if, but a matter of when we’ll be affected. That is if our data hasn’t been stolen already. Apart from the regulars—think websites, smartphones, and computers — what are some little-known places open to such attacks? You should be thinking about third-party apps, smart devices and even cars, here is why.


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1. Smart home appliances

Refrigerators, ovens, teddy bears, smart TVs, hair straighteners and potentially all devices that can connect to the internet are prey for hackers. These luxurious devices are all the rage but they’re not necessarily designed with state of the art security.

Sure, these devices aren’t just meant to stunt wealth, they’re useful too. Your smartphone can easily play your favorite music, your refrigerator can decipher what food you like and in what quantities you like them, your lights can switch on and off depending on your location, and a lot more. All that is possible because these devices store your personal information.

The truly frightening part is that hackers can combine all attacked appliances into a botnet which attacks targets online, and keeps them off the internet.

The first step to dealing with this is knowing what exactly your appliances are capable of and likely threats they expose you to. Just like developers frequently take node logging for granted until they run into serious problems, user manuals for appliances are treated in the same manner.

But if you’re in the habit of ignoring user manuals, don’t do it anymore as some contain useful instructions and warnings. For example, some smart TVs come with a warning that you should never hold private conversations near the TV. When it comes to smart appliances, you can never be too careful.

2. Third-party apps

In the mobile app development world, third-party apps mean several things. It can mean an app you download from Google’s Play Store or Apple’s App Store but it’s not created by Google or Apple. Be careful, especially when you download apps that are not native apps e.g a Facebook app not developed by Facebook or a Twitter app not created by Twitter, etc.

For example, in 2014, cyber thieves stole approximately 90,000 photos and 9,000 videos from Snapchat users who used the app SnapSaved, a third-party SnapChat tool. Part of SnapChat’s statement read:

“Snapchatters were victimized by their use of third-party apps to send and receive Snaps, a practice that we expressly prohibit in our Terms of Use precisely because they compromise our users’ security.”

Then there’s the danger from downloading apps from unofficial third-party stores. No, that’s not to say there are no safe apps on third-party app stores as I routinely use them sometimes too. Exercise caution by using Google, Reddit, and XDA forums for reviews and comments about apps you plan to download.

3. Cars

It’s almost four years since two security researchers proved they could hijack a moving Jeep on a highway. They were able to send commands to its dashboard functions, steering, along with brakes and transmission—all of this 10 miles from the car’s location. Cybersecurity experts and automakers have since realized that modern cars are also susceptible to hackers.

Yes, that includes your car if it has access to the internet. What’s more? Self-driving cars have even more high-tech controls and are at risk of such attacks too.

Imagine this scenario: You’re on a trip, probably to a different town and suddenly your steering wheel veers off the road, the brakes are not working, but the car is accelerating at top speed.

Some decades ago, that would have sounded like a scene from a Sci-Fi movie, and now we really wish it is. Because unfortunately, such reality and more is upon us.

Newer cars keep an insane amount of information including but not limited to your address, birth date, entertainment preferences, locations, and some will even collect credit card information for purchases straight from your car. Fortunately, auto companies are working hard to develop not just smarter but more secure cars to minimize these threats.

4. Social media

Hackers won’t attack you via broadcast messages you’ve received about them from your Facebook friends. Those “warnings” are not based on any facts and they’re made worse because people who are not affected in any way by those messages forward those hoax messages to other Facebook users.

Facebook, for example, is home to many third-party apps that offer access to enhanced features like games for its users. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal last year caused a frenzy where many Facebook users deactivated many if not all third-party apps connected to their Facebook accounts.

You don’t necessarily need to deactivate all third party apps because some are useful for work. As an example, a social media manager will need apps like Buffer and Hootsuite to do their jobs. But you can check to see which third-party apps are connected to your account and what personal information they can access. Keep only vital third-party apps and delete the rest.

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