IBM: 63 percent of dating apps vulnerable to hackers

13 February 2015

People who use dating apps are at risk of not only finding new love, but also of finding their sensitive information stolen, research by IBM shows. According to the firm, more than 60% of dating apps are vulnerable to hackers as they have access to additional features on mobile devices which can be used in an attack. The firm identifies five possible scenarios arising from this vulnerability and five steps consumers can take to better protect themselves.

Dating apps
In today’s world of rapid expanding data-driven technologies, people are becoming more and more interconnected, from working via a cloud, to talking to friends via mobile apps, to meeting new people on social platforms or dating apps. In recent years, the use of dating apps has grown strong as it is a convenient way for singles of all ages to meet new love interests. With these apps, users can get to know their potential date through the use of instant messaging, photo-sharing as well as geo-location services. According to research by American think tank Pew Research, 1 in 10 Americans (31 million people) have used a dating site or app to find dates.

Use of dating apps grows strongly

With the increased use of technology to find new lovers, the threat of hackers also increases. To classify this risk, IT giant IBM recently researched the vulnerability of 41 popular dating apps available on Google’s Android mobile platform to hackers, using the IBM AppScan Mobile Analyser tool. This analysis showed that 63% (26) of these apps have medium to severe security vulnerabilities and could put personal user information and corporate data at risk.

IBM’s research shows that the reason why these apps are at risk to be hacked is that many of the dating applications have access to additional features on mobile devices. Almost half of the apps have access to the user’s mobile wallet billing information (49%), 73% to the phone’s GPS location, and a third (34%) to its camera. Half of the companies surveyed by IBM have employees that use these apps on mobile devices they also use to access business information, which makes them possible victims to hacking, spying and theft.

How hackers have the means

Specific vulnerabilities identified on the at-risk dating apps included “cross site scripting via man in the middle, debug flag enabled, weak random number generator and phishing via man in the middle.” In the analysis, the firm identifies five possible scenarios that could follow from exposure to these risks. These include the possibility of hackers gaining access to the phone’s camera or microphone, sending malware when a user is expecting a messages from his/her date, gaining access to GPS to track the user’s movements, taking control over the user’s dating profile or even stealing credit card information.

How hackers can exploit dating apps

What can consumers do to protect themselves?
As consumers are possibly not only putting their own information, but possibly also that of their company in danger, they should be aware of the risks and protect themselves accordingly. IBM lists five steps users can take to decrease their vulnerability. Users should chose their passwords wisely, update their apps, should not share too much information, check the app’s permissions and only use trusted wifi-connections.

How users can protect themselves

Caleb Barlow, Vice President of IBM Security, explains: “Many consumers use and trust their mobile phones for a variety of applications. It is this trust that gives hackers the opportunity to exploit vulnerabilities like the ones we found in these dating apps. Consumers need to be careful not to reveal too much personal information on these sites as they look to build a relationship. Our research demonstrates that some users may be engaged in a dangerous trade-off – with increased sharing resulting in decreased personal security and privacy.”



Boards of top UK firms must do more on cyber-awareness

06 March 2019

A new report released by the UK Government has found that UK businesses need to do more to build awareness in their firms, if they are to fend off cyber-attackers. The study found that an all-time high of 72% of businesses now see cyber-threats as a top risk, but just less than half of UK boards do not have a comprehensive understanding of the critical assets at risk from cyber-attacks.

Digital technology has revolutionised modern business, with a rate of innovation present in many companies that arguably eclipses that of the industrial revolution. The huge opportunities presented by technology mean that many firms have rushed to digitalise their offerings; but while this means they are able to take advantage  of the latest trends, it has also opened innumerable doors for cyber-criminals looking to use technology to loot corporations from across the globe.

Illustrating the extent to which cyber-crime has boomed in the last decade, in the final quarter of 2018, a study commissioned by Bromium and presented by Dr. Michael McGuire at RSA found that the cyber-crime economy has grown to an estimated $1.5 trillion dollars annually. That is only a conservative estimate – but that conservative figure alone is so large that if it constituted a national GDP, instead of a collection of digital frauds, it would be the world’s 13th largest economy.

Amid this state of play, it is easy to see why cyber-security has become one of the key watchwords of any board room in the 21st century. The cyber-security consulting segment has boomed, with the world’s 10 largest operators in the segment bringing in more than $11 billion in related fees, as businesses tap external expertise to help find areas where they can improve their defences. As noted by a new UK Government report, the legacy of this spike in consulting activity is that almost all UK businesses now have a cyber-security strategy, with only 4% admitting otherwise. 

Cyber threats are increasingly seen as high risk in comparison to other risks that businesses face

This comes at the end of a sea-change in attitudes toward cyber-security over the last five years. According to the 2018 FTSE 350 Cyber Governance Health Check, in 2013, the largest minority of businesses felt cyber-threats represented a low operational risk, at 38%, compared to just 25% who saw it as a very high group risk. Now, the two opinions have seen a dramatic reversal, with only 6% seeing cyber-security as a low threat, compared to a huge 72% of businesses which see it as a very high risk. Considering the high profile hacks that occurred in the interim, this is perhaps not that surprising.

However, while cyber-awareness in general is at an all-time high, this is where the positive news ends. According to the study, while the vast majority of firms in the UK have a cyber-security plan in place, only 46% have a dedicated budget to enact that strategy. Should their financial positions change rapidly in the near future – something increasingly likely with the prospect of a No Deal Brexit still looming over the horizon – then that plan could fall by the wayside, with the funding shortfall exposing firms to even greater financial damage in the near future.

The study, released by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) in March 2019, was undertaken in partnership with Winning Moves and support from EY, KPMGPwC and Deloitte, working with their FTSE 350 clients to participate in the survey. The study also found that while most businesses have incident response plans, most are not testing them: 95% of FTSE 350 businesses have an incident response, but a mere 57% test their crisis incident response plans regularly. With companies facing the consistently evolving threat of cyber-attacks, that could leave major chinks in their armour undiscovered until it is too late.

Board understanding of business-critical assets

Similarly, many firms also seem oblivious to the threat posed by their wider supply chains, which if left unchecked, provide hackers with a blank cheque to access company data. A majority of boards do not recognise supply chain risks beyond the first tier, as 77% of FTSE 350 businesses told researchers they did not recognise the risks associated with businesses in the supply chain with whom they have no direct contact.

Meanwhile, almost half of UK boards do not understand the critical assets at risk from cyber-attacks. 54% of businesses in 2018 rated the board’s understanding of critical information, data assets and systems as comprehensive, while of that, only 12% said understanding was the best it could be. This compares to 43% of boards in 2017 and 32% in 2015/16 stating they had a clear understanding, suggesting that key progress is being made, but also that there is a great deal of room for improvement.

Commenting on the findings, Digital Minister Margot James said, “We know that companies are well aware of the risks, but more needs to be done by boards to make sure that they don’t fall victim to a cyber-attack. This report shows that we still have a long way to go but I am also encouraged to see that some improvements are being made. Cyber-security should never be an add-on for businesses and I would urge all executives to work with the National Cyber Security Centre and take up the government’s advice and training that’s available.”