Cyber Investigators: Feast, Famine, or Poisoned Data in 2023

January 11, 2023

At this moment in time, the hottest topic among some cyber investigators is open source intelligence or OSINT. In 2022, the number of free and for-fee OSINT tools and training sessions grew significantly. Plus, each law enforcement and intelligence conference I attended in 2022 was awash with OSINT experts, exhibitors, and investigators eager to learn about useful sites, Web and command line techniques, and intelware solutions combining OSINT information with smart software. I anticipate that 2023 will be a bumper year for DYOR or do your own research. No collegial team required, just a Telegram group or a Twitter post with comments. The Ukraine-Russia conflict has become the touchstone for the importance of OSINT.

Over pizza, my team and I have been talking about how the OSINT “revolution” will unwind in 2023. On the benefit side of the cyber investigative ledger, OSINT is going to become even more important. After 30 years in the background, OSINT has become the next big thing for investigators, intelligence professionals, entrepreneurs, and Beltway bandits. Systems developed in the US, Israel, and other countries continue to bundle sophisticated analytics plus content. The approach is to migrate basic investigative processes into workflows. A button click automates certain tasks. Some of the solutions have proven themselves to be controversial. Voyager Lab and the Los Angeles Police Department generated attention in late 2021. The Brennan Center released a number of once-confidential documents revealing the capabilities of a modern intelware system. Many intelware vendors have regrouped and appear to be ready to returned to aggressive marketing of their systems, its built-in data, and smart software. These tools are essential for certain types of investigations whether in US agencies like Homeland Security or in financial crime investigations at FINCEN. Even state and city entities have embraced the mantra of better, faster, easier, and, in some cases, cheaper investigations.

Another development in 2023 will be more tension between skilled human investigators and increasingly smarter software. The bean counters (accountants) see intelware as a way to reduce the need for headcount (full time equivalents) and up the amount of smart software and OSINT information. Investigators will face an increase in cyber crime. Some involved in budgeting will emphasize smart software instead of human officers. The crypto imbroglio is just one facet of the factors empowering online criminal behavior. Some believe that the Dark Web, CSAM, and contraband have faded from the scene. That’s a false idea. In the last year or so, what my team and I call the “shadow Web” has become a new, robust, yet hard-to-penetrate infrastructure for cyber crime. Investigators now face an environment into which a digital Miracle-Gro has been injected. Its components are crypto, encryption, and specialized software that moves Web sites from Internet host to Internet host in the click of a mouse. Chasing shadows is a task even the most recent intelware systems find difficult to accomplish.

However, my team and I believe that there is another downside for law enforcement and a major upside for bad actors. The wide availability of smart software capable of generating misinformation in the form of text, videos, and audio. Unfortunately today’s intelware is not yet able to flag and filter weaponized information in real time or in a reliable way. OSINT advocates and marketers unfamiliar with the technical challenges of ignoring “fake” information downplay the risk of weaponized or poisoned information. A smart software system ingesting masses of digital information can, at this time, learn from bogus data and, therefore, output misleading or incorrect recommendations. In 2023, poisoned data continue to derail many intelware systems as well as traditional investigations when insufficient staff are available to determine provenance and accuracy. Our research has identified 10 widely-used mathematical procedures particularly sensitive to bogus information. Few want to discuss these out-of-sight sinkholes in public forums. Hopefully the reluctance to talks about OSINT blindspots will fade in 2023.

The feast? Smart software. Masses of information.

The famine? Funds to expand the hiring of full time (not part time) investigators and the money needed to equip these professionals with high-value, timely instruction about tools, sources, pitfalls, and methods for verification of data.

The poison? The ChatGPT and related tools which can make anyone with basic scripting expertise into a volcano of misinformation.

Let me suggest four steps to begin to deal with the feast, famine, and poison challenges?

First, individuals, trade groups, and companies marketing intelware to law enforcement and intelligence entities stick to the facts about their systems. The flowery language and the truth-stretching lingo must be decreased. Why do intelware vendors experience brutal churn among licensees? The distance between the reality of the system and the assertions made to sell the system.

Second, procurement processes and procurement professionals must become advocates for reform. Vendors often provide “free” trials and then work to get “on the budget.” The present procurement methods can lead to wasted time, money, and contracting missteps. Outside-the-box ideas like a software sandbox require consideration. (If you want to know more about this, message me.)

Third, consulting firms which are often quick to offer higher salaries to cyber investigators need to evaluate the impact of their actions on investigative units. There is no regulatory authority monitoring the behavior of these firms. The Wild West of cyber investigator poaching hampers some investigations. Legislation perhaps? More attention from the Federal Trade Commission maybe? Putting the needs of the investigators ahead of the needs of the partners in the consulting firms?

Fourth, a stepped up recruitment effort is needed to attract investigators to the agencies engaged in dealing with cyber crime. In my years of work for the US government and related entities, I learned that government units are not very good at identifying, enlisting, and retaining talent. This is an administrative function that requires more attention from individuals with senior administrative responsibilities. Perhaps 2023 will generate some progress in this core personnel function.

Don’t get me wrong. I am optimistic about smart software. I believe techniques to identify and filter weaponized information can be enhanced and improved. I am confident that forward leaning professionals in government agencies can have a meaningful impact on institutionalized procedures and methods associated with fighting cyber crime.

My team and I are committed to conducting research and sharing our insights with law enforcement and intelligence professionals in 2023. My hope is that others will adopt a similar “give back” and “pay it forward” approach in 2023 in the midst of feasts, famines, and poisoned data.

Thank you for reading. — Stephen E Arnold, January 11, 2023

Google: Do Small Sites Need Anti Terrorism Help or Is the Issue Better Addressed Elsewhere?

January 3, 2023

Are “little sites” really in need of Google’s anti-terrorism tool? Oh, let me be clear. Google is — according to “Google Develops Free Terrorism-Moderation Tool for Smaller Websites” — in the process of creating Googley software. This software will be:

a free moderation tool that smaller websites can use to identify and remove terrorist material, as new legislation in the UK and the EU compels Internet companies to do more to tackle illegal content.

And what institutions are working with Google on this future software? The article reports:

The software is being developed in partnership with the search giant’s research and development unit Jigsaw and Tech Against Terrorism, a UN-backed initiative that helps tech companies police online terrorism.

What’s interesting to me is that the motivation for this to-be software or filtering system is in development. The software, it seems, does not exist.

Why would Google issue statements about vaporware?

The article provides a clue:

The move comes as Internet companies will be forced to remove extremist content from their platforms or face fines and other penalties under laws such as the Digital Services Act in the EU, which came into force in November, and the UK’s Online Safety bill, which is expected to become law this year.

I understand. Google’s management understands that regulation and fines are not going away in 2023. It is logical, therefore, to get in front of the problem. How does Google propose to do this?

Yep, vaporware. (I have a hunch there is a demonstration available.) Nevertheless, the genuine article is not available to small Web sites, who need help in coping with terrorism-related content.

How will the tool work? The article states:

Jigsaw’s tool aims to tackle the next step of the process and help human moderators make decisions on content flagged as dangerous and illegal. It will begin testing with two unnamed sites at the beginning of this year.

Everything sounds good when viewed the top of Mount Public Relations, where the vistas are clear and the horizons are unlimited.

I want to make one modest observation: Small Web sites run on hosting services. These hosting services are, in my opinion, more suitable locations for filtering software. The problem is that hosting providers comprise a complex and diverse group of enterprises. In fact, I have yet to receive from my research team a count of service providers that is accurate and comprehensive.

Pushing the responsibility to the operator of a single Web site strikes me as a non-functional approach. Would it make sense for Google’s tool to be implemented in service providers. The content residing on the service providers equipment or co-located hardware and in the stream of data for virtual private systems or virtual private servers. The terrorism related content would be easier to block.

Let’s take a reasonable hosting service; for example, Hertzner in Germany or OVHCloud in France. The European Union could focus on these enabling nodes and implement either the Google system if and when it becomes available and actually works or an alternative filtering method devised by  a European team. (I would suggest that Europol or similar entities can develop the needed filters, test them, and maintain them.) Google has a tendency to create or talk about solutions and then walk away after a period of time. Remember Google’s Web Accelerator?)

Based on our research for an upcoming presentation to a group of investigators focused on cyber crime, service providers (what I call enablers) should be the point of attention in an anti-terrorism action. Furthermore, these enablers are also pivotal in facilitating certain types of online crime. Examples abound. These range from right-wing climate activists using services in Romania to child pornography hosted on what we call “shadow ISPs.” These shadow enablers operate specialized services specifically to facilitate illegal activities within specialized software like The Onion Router and other obfuscation methods.

For 2023, I advocate ignoring PR motivated “to be” software. I think the efforts of national and international law enforcement should be directed at the largely unregulated and often reluctant “enablers.” I agree that some small Web site operators could do more. But I think it is time to take a closer look at enablers operating from vacant lots in the Seychelles or service providers running cyber fraud operations to be held responsible.

Fixing the Internet requires consequences. Putting the focus on small Web sites is a useful idea. But turning up the enforcement and regulatory heat on the big outfits will deliver more heat where being “chill” has allowed criminal activity to flourish. I have not mentioned the US and Canada. I have not forgotten that there are enablers operating in plain sight in such places as Detroit and Québec City. Google’s PR play is a way to avoid further legal and financial hassles.

It is time to move from “to be” software to “taking purposeful, intentional action.”

Stephen E Arnold, January 3, 2023

Identity Theft Made Easy: Why?

December 30, 2022

Some automobiles are lemons aka money holes, because they have defects that keep breaking. Many services are like that as well, including rental car insurance, extended warranties on electronics, and identity theft protection. Life Hacker explains why identity theft protection services are a scam in the story: “Identity Theft Protection Is Mostly Bullshit.”

Most Americans receive emails or physical letters from their place of work, medical offices, insurance agencies, etc. that their personal information was involved in a data breach. As a token of atonement, victims are given free Identity Theft Protection (ITP) aka a useless service. These services promise to monitor the Internet and Dark Web for your personal information. This includes anything from your credit cards to social security number. Identity theft victims deal with ruined credit scores and possibly stolen funds. Identity Theft Protection services seem to be a good idea, until you realize that you can do the monitoring yourself for free.

ITP services monitor credit reports, social media accounts, the Dark Web, and personal financial accounts. Some of these services such as credit reports and your financial accounts will alert you when there is suspicious activity. You can do the following for free:

“You can access your credit reports for free once a year. And you should! It’s a fast and pretty straightforward operation, and at a glance you can see if someone has opened a credit card or taken out a loan in your name. In fact, the number one best way to stop folks from stealing your identity is to freeze your credit, which prevents anyone—even if they have your personal information—from getting a new credit card or loan. While this doesn’t protect you from every single kind of fraud out there, it removes the most common vectors that identity thieves use.”

The US government also maintains a Web site to assist identity theft victims. It is wise to remember that ITP services are different from identity theft insurance. The latter is the same as regular insurance, except it is meant to help when your information is stolen.

Practice good identity hygiene by monitoring your accounts and not posting too much personal information online.

Why is identity theft like a chicken wing left on a picnic table? Careless human or indifferent maintenance worker?

Whitney Grace, December 30, 2022

Need a Human for Special Work? Just Buy One Maybe?

December 29, 2022

Is it possible to purchase a person? Judging from the rumors I have heard in rural Romania, outside the airport in Khartoum, and in a tavern in Tirana — I would suggest that the answer is “possibly.” The Times of London is not into possibilities if the information in “Maids Trafficked and Sold to Wealthy Saudis on Black Market” is accurate. Keep in mind that I am mindful of what I call open source information blindspots. Shaped, faked, and weaponized information is now rampant.

The article focuses on an ecommerce site called The article explains:

[The site] Saudi Arabia’s largest online marketplace, through which a Times investigation shows that hundreds of domestic workers are being illegally trafficked and sold to the highest bidders.

Furthermore, the Times adds:

The app, which had 2.5 million visits last year — more than Amazon or AliExpress within the kingdom — is still available on the Apple and Google Play stores despite being criticised by the UN’s Special Rapporteurs in 2020 for facilitating modern slavery.

If true, the article is likely to make for some uncomfortable days as the world swings into 2023; specifically:

  1. The Saudi government
  2. Apple
  3. Google
  4. Assorted law enforcement professionals.

If the information in the write up is accurate, several of the newspaper’s solicitors will be engaged in conversations with other parties’ solicitors. I assume that there will be some conversations in Mayfair and Riyadh about the article. Will Interpol become curious? Probably.

Let’s step back and ask some different questions. I am assuming that some of the information in the article is “correct”; that is, one can verify screenshots or chase down the source of the information. Maybe the lead journalist will consent to an interview on a true crime podcast. Whatever.

Consider these questions:

  1. Why release the story at the peak of some countries’ holiday season? Is the timing designed to minimize or emphasize the sensitive topic of alleged slavery, the Kingdom’s conventions, or the apparent slipshod app review process at controversial US high technology companies?
  2. What exactly did or does Apple and Google know about the app for the Haraj marketplace? If the Times’ story is accurate, what management issue exists at each of these large, but essential to some, companies?
  3. Is the ecommerce site operating within the Kingdom’s cultural norms or is the site itself breaking outside legal guidelines? What does Saudi Arabia say about this site?

To sum up, human trafficking is a concern for many individuals, government entities, and non-governmental organizations. I keep coming back to the question “Why now?” The article states:

Apple said: “We strictly prohibit the solicitation or promotion of illegal behaviour, including human trafficking and child exploitation, in the App Store and across every part of our business. We take any accusations or claims around this behaviour very seriously.” Google declined to comment. Haraj, Saudi Arabia’s human rights commission and the government have been contacted for a response.

Perhaps taking more time to obtain comments would have been useful? What’s the political backstory for the disclosure of the allegedly accurate information during the holiday season? Note that the story is behind a paywall which further limits its diffusion.

Net net: Many questions have I.

Stephen E Arnold, December 29, 2022

Cyber Security: Is It Time for a Brazen Bull?

December 28, 2022

The cyber security industry has weathered Covid, mergers, acquisitions, system failures, and — excuse the lousy pun — solar winds. The flow of exploits with increasingly poetic names continues; for example, Azov, Zerobot, Killnet, etc. However, the cyber defense systems suffer from what one might call a slight misalignment. Bad actors find ways to compromise [a] humans to get user names and passwords, [b] exploit what is now the industry standard for excellence (MVP or minimal viable product, good enough engineering, and close-enough-for-horseshows technology), any gizmo or process connected to something connected to a public-facing network. The list of “bad” actors is a lengthy one. It includes bird-owning individuals in the UK, assorted government agencies hostile to the US, students in computer science class or hanging out in a coffee shop, and double agents with computing know how.

To add to the pain of cyber security, there are organizations which do great marketing but less great systems. “What’s in a PR Statement: LastPass Breach Explained” discusses a serious problem which underscores a number of issues.

LastPass is a product with a past reaching backwards more than a decade. The software made it easier for a user to keep track of what user name and password was whipped up to log into an online service or software. Over the years, PC Magazine found the password manager excellent. (Software can be excellent? Who knew?) Wikipedia has a list of “issues” the security software faced over the years. You can find that information here. More amusing is security expert Steve Gibson’s positive review of LastPass. Should you have the time, you can read about that expert’s conclusions in 2010 here.

But what does the PR statement article say? Here are a couple of snippets from the cited December 26, 2022, essay:

Snippet 1: Right before the holiday season, LastPass published an update on their breach. As people have speculated, this timing was likely not coincidental but rather intentional to keep the news coverage low. …Their statement is also full of omissions, half-truths and outright lies.


Snippet 2: Again, it seems that LastPass attempts to minimize the risk of litigation (hence alerting businesses) while also trying to prevent a public outcry (so not notifying the general public). Priorities…

My take on LastPass is that the company is doing what other cyber security firms do: Manage information about problems.

Let’s talk about cyber security on a larger stage. How does a global scale sound?

First, security is defined by [a] what bad actors have been discovered to do and [b] marketing. A breach occurs. A fix — ideally one enabled by artificial intelligence and chock full of predictive analytics — is created and marketed. Does the fix work? How about those Exchange Server exploits or those 24×7 phishing attacks? The point for me is that cyber security seems to be reactive; that is, dictated by what bad actors do.

Second, the “fix” is verified by whom and what? In the US there are Federal cyber groups. There are state cyber groups. There are cyber associations. There are specialty labs in fun places like Quantico. For a LastPass incident, which cowpoke moves the cow along? The point: Bureaucracy, friction, artificial barriers, time, expertise, money, and more.

Third, technical layoffs and time mean that cyber crime may be an attractive business opportunity for some.

Considering these three points, I want to hazard several observations:

  1. Cyber security may be an oxymoron
  2. Bad actors have the advantages granted by good enough software and systems, tools, talent, and time
  3. Users and customers who purchase security may be faced with a continual flow of surprises

What’s the fix? May I suggest that we consider bringing back the Bull of Phalaris aka the brazen bull.

The “bull” is fabricated of a suitable metal; for example, bronze. The inside of the bull is hollow. A trapdoor allows access to the interior space. When the trapdoor is closed, there is an opening from the interior to the bull’s nose. The malefactor — let’s say a venture firm’s managing director who is rolling up cyber security companies with flawed software — is placed inside the bull. A fire is built beneath the bull and the shouts and possible other noises are emitted from the opening in the bull’s head.

The use of the brazen bull for software developers pumping out “good enough” cyber security solutions can be an option as well. Once law enforcement snags the head of a notorious hacking gang, the bull will be pressed into duty. Keep in mind that Microsoft blamed 1,000 cyber warriors working in a country hostile to the US for the SolarWinds’ misstep. This would necessitate more bulls which would provide meaningful work to some.

I would advocate that marketer types who sell cyber security systems which don’t work be included in the list of individuals who can experience the thrill of the brazen bull.

My thought is that the use of the brazen bull with clips released as short videos would capture some attention.

What’s is going on now is not getting through? More robust measures are necessary. No bull.

Stephen E Arnold, December 28, 2022

Online and Brick Crime Ecosystem: Not Just Surviving, It Is Thriving

December 28, 2022

For some US cities, looting has become a daily occurrence. Retailers in San Francisco are left helpless as their merchandise is stolen. Looting happens when things become violent during protests centered on ethnicity or politics. It appears looting is a victimless crime, because thieves are hitting up large retail chains and luxury stores. Yahoo! Finance details how Target is facing a huge profit loss because of shoplifting and it is the same for other stores too: “Target: ‘Organized Retail Crime’ Has Driven $400 Million In Extra Profit Loss This Year.”

Target has lost $400 million in gross profit in compared to last year’s third-quarter results and the CEO projects a $600 million loss for all of 2022. Target attributes profit shrinkage to “organized retail crime.” Why are more people stealing these days than before? The Yahoo Finance Editor-In-Chief Andy Serwer summed it up as a zeitgeist issue:

“”Why are people stealing these days? That’s a tough one. To some degree it’s a reflection of our times. Simply put, America’s social contract is straining. Until recently we’ve been able to lay out goods—often in mammoth, big box stores with only a handful of employees. When our social contract is strong—i.e people are getting a fair shake—it’s a model that works. Now it seems more people are stealing instead. (BTW, our stressed social contract may be capping how far we can push this people-light, technology-heavy model. Last month Wegman’s ended its scan-and-go shopping app. Why? Shrinkage, of course.)”

Other factors include a widening wealth gap, companies failing to pay workers a living wage, shoppers being violent toward employees, external thefts, and post-COVID mentalities. The article, however, failed to mention how easy it is to fence stolen products. Online commerce Web sites such as Amazon, eBay, Mercer, Swappa, the Real Real, and social media marketplaces are teaming with stolen goods. It is a little harder to drop luxury items, but everyday products like electronics, baby formula, diapers, toys, and alcohol go quickly. These Web sites do little to vet the sellers, although Amazon has some blocks and eBay scans for “counterfeit goods” and limits the sale of certain items.

These prevention measures do little to stop thieves from hawking their stolen

merchandise online.

Whitney Grace, December 28, 2022

Are Bad Actors Working for Thrills?

December 27, 2022

Nope, some bad actors may be forced to participate in online criminal behavior. Threats, intimidation, a beating or two, or worse can focus some people to do what is required.

The person trying to swindle you online might be doing so under duress. “Cyber Criminals Hold Asian Tech Workers Captive in Scam Factories,” reports Context. The article begins with the story of Stephen Wesley, an Indian engineer who thought he was taking a graphic design job in Thailand. Instead he found himself carted off to Myanmar, relieved of his passport and phone, and forced to work up to 18 hours a day perpetuating crypto currency scams. This went on for 45 days, until he and about 130 others were rescued from such operations by Indian authorities. Reporters Anuradha Nagaraj and Nanchanok Wongsamuth reveal:

“Thousands of people, many with tech skills, have been lured by social media advertisements promising well-paid jobs in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, only to find themselves forced to defraud strangers worldwide via the internet. … The cybercrime rings first emerged in Cambodia, but have since moved into other countries in the region and are targeting more tech-savvy workers, including from India and Malaysia. Authorities in these countries and United Nations officials have said they are run by Chinese gangsters who control gambling across southeast Asia and are making up for losses during the pandemic lockdowns. The experts say the trafficked captives are held in large compounds in converted casinos in Cambodia, and in special economic zones in Myanmar and Laos. ‘The gangs targeted skilled, tech-savvy workers who had lost jobs during the pandemic and were desperate, and fell for these bogus recruitment ads,’ said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch. ‘Authorities have been slow to respond, and in many cases these people are not being treated as victims of trafficking, but as criminals because they were caught up in these scams.'”

A long-game tactic typically used by these outfits is eloquently named “pig butchering,” wherein the operator builds trust with each victim through fake profiles on social media, messaging apps, and dating apps. Once the mark is hooked, the involuntary con artist pressures them to invest in phony crypto or trading schemes. Beware virtual suitors bearing unique investment opportunities.

Sadly, recent tech layoffs are bound to accelerate this trend. Bad actors are not going to pass up a chance to get talent cheaply. Myanmar’s current government, which seized power in February 2021, declined to comment. After months of denying the problem existed, we are told, Cambodian officials are finally cracking down on these operations. The article states thousands of workers are still trapped.

Business is business as the saying goes.

Cynthia Murrell, December 27, 2022

Researchers Exploit Conti Data Leak to Analyze APJ Ransomware Attacks

December 23, 2022

A recent report from cybersecurity firm Akamai examines a pattern of ransomware attacks in the Asia-Pacific and Japan (APJ) region. Researchers took advantage of a recent document leak from major ransomware-as-a-service outfit Conti to paint a picture of that organization’s methods, attack patterns by country, and average ill-gotten gains per attack. India’s NewsPatrolling discusses the findings in, “Akamai APJ Ransomware Report H1 2022—Summary.” Writer Mahender emphasizes the leaked data does not include all of Conti’s attempted attacks. We learn:

“[Akamai’s] analysis of the vertical distribution of attacks revealed that business services was the top victimized industry in APJ. Successful attacks on this vertical can be concerning because of the risk of supply chain cyber attacks. Cybercriminals could breach a third party, such as business services companies, to gain a foothold on high-value targets. One such example is a Taiwanese company and supplier/contractor for a high-end automobile manufacturer, and a consumer electronics company, among others that suffered a Conti attack in 2022. Despite 1,500 servers being encrypted, the attack reportedly impacted only noncritical systems. It is crucial to highlight here the security risks that third-party companies could potentially introduce to their affiliated organizations.”

True. Then there are attacks that pose a more direct threat. Though APJ was third in attack frequency, after North America and EMEA (Europe, Middle East, and Africa), many of the targets Conti chose there especially concerning:

“The APJ region also shows a significantly larger number of critical infrastructure attacks as compared with other regions. Attacks on these verticals could have catastrophic, real-world implications. Case in point: One of the largest electricity providers in Australia was hit by a Conti ransomware attack in 2021. Although the attack did not disrupt their services, it’s not hard to imagine the detrimental effects if it did.”

Retail and hospitality companies were the second-most attacked verticals—what ransomware collection would be complete without sources of credit card numbers and other lucrative personal data? The report also found Conti targeting a victim sweet spot: businesses big enough to pay a worthwhile ransom yet too small to have significant cybersecurity resources. Check out the report itself for all the details.

Cynthia Murrell, December 23, 2022

Are Smart Meters A Hacker Wonderland?

December 21, 2022

One reason to not upgrade your entire life to the digital cloud is an increased risk of hacking vulnerability. Interior and exterior security cameras, particularly baby monitors, are prone to hacking, but did you ever think smart meters for electricity and heating would be a target? Yahoo News reports that British households are being hacked by energy companies: “Switch By Stealth’: Alarming Rise In Homes With Smart Meters Being Cut Off Remotely.”

Smart meters are digital readers that monitor the amount of electricity a household uses, then sends the information back to the energy company. Smart meters provide energy companies with better information about energy consumption and billing. Smart meters also allow energy companies to remotely switch a customer’s payment method. The payment method is switched from debit payments to an expensive prepayment method.

What is worse is that when all the funds from the prepayment method are used up, the energy company will shut off the energy leaving a household without electricity and heating.

The British government is listening, but not acting quickly enough:

“It comes amid the worsening cost-of-living crisis, with the average yearly energy bill reaching £2,500 in October – a record high, and almost double the price it was last year. And energy bills are set to rise again in April, with estimates the average yearly bill could hit £3,500 per year. Campaigners are urging the government to honour their pledge to uprate benefits with inflation in the autumn statement next week, warning millions of low income households are already being forced into destitution without more support.”

It is understandable energy companies need to earn money to pay their employees, purchase energy, and keep the lights on, but why would they harm their customers? It would not be surprising if some bad actors wearing a white hat hack the smart meters and assist the people about to have their energy cut off.

Whitney Grace, December 21, 2022

Need Holiday Cash? Some Gotchas Exist

December 19, 2022

Perhaps one’s mobile device is not the best place to turn when shopping for a loan. The Dailyhunt shares, “Nearly 300 Predatory Loan Apps Circulating on Google, Apple Stores: Report,” originally published at The brief write-up cites a recent report from Lookout, stating:

“Nearly 300 loan apps are circulating on Google Play and the Apple App Store that exhibit predatory behaviour, such as exfiltrating excessive user data from mobile devices and harassing borrowers for repayment, a new report has revealed. According to cloud security company Lookout, these loan apps exploit victims’ desire for quick cash to trap borrowers into predatory loan contracts and require them to grant access to sensitive information such as contacts and SMS messages. Some victims have reported that their loans were accompanied by hidden fees, high-interest rates, and repayment terms that were not as favourable as advertised. Lookout also found evidence that data exfiltrated from devices were sometimes used to pressure borrowers for repayment, which is a common threat tactic to disclose a borrower’s debt to their networks. Researchers at Lookout discovered 251 Android apps that had been downloaded over 15 million times. On the Apple App Store, the researchers discovered 35 apps that ranked among the top 100 finance apps in their regional stores.”

High interest rates, hidden fees, and bait-and-switch terms are problematic enough. Stealing personal information for more effective threats and harassment is next-level abuse brought to us by modern technology. It is not as if the companies are unaware there’s a problem. We learn Google recently removed over 2,000 personal loan apps from its Indian Play Store and ordered loan apps in Kenya to submit proof of licensing. It seems, though, more comprehensive measures may be required. Borrower beware.

Cynthia Murrell, December 19, 2022

« Previous PageNext Page »

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta