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How hackers use WhatsApp to spread scams and fake news

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Edited by Fundisiwe Maseko

Check Point researchers have discovered a vulnerability in WhatsApp that allows a threat actor to intercept and manipulate messages sent by those in a group or private conversation. By doing so, attackers can put themselves in a position of immense power to not only steer potential evidence in their favour, but also create and spread misinformation.

The vulnerability so far allows for three possible attacks:

1. Changing a reply from someone to put words into their mouth that they did not say.
2. Quoting a message in a reply to a group conversation to make it appear as if it came from a person who is not even part of the group.
3. Sending a message to a member of a group that pretends to be a group message but is in fact only sent to this member. However, the member’s response will be sent to the entire group.

Make It Go Viral

As of early 2018, the Facebook-owned messaging application currently has over 1.5 billion users with over one billion groups and 65 billion messages sent every day. According to a report by global digital agencies, mobile users accounted for 172 million, most of whom used only two Facebook-owned platforms: WhatsApp and Messenger.

In addition, WhatsApp also has plans to roll out additional functionalities for businesses to help them do commerce and manage customer support through the app. Vulnerabilities such as the ones described above make the potential opportunities for scamming rife.

WhatsApp with the Fake News?

Due to its very nature of being an easy and quick way to communicate, WhatsApp has already been at the center of a variety of scams. From fake supermarket and airline giveaways to election tampering, threat actors never tire of ways to manipulate unsuspecting users.

In fact, the ability to social engineer on a mass scale was already seen at a level where even people’s lives were at stake. In Brazil, rumors quickly spread on WhatsApp about the dangers of receiving a yellow fever vaccine – the very thing that could have stopped an epidemic of the deadly virus during its 2016 rampage that infected 1500 people and killed almost 500.

More recently, last month vicious rumors, also spread via WhatsApp, led to a spate of lynching and murders of innocent victims in India.

Read Also: WhatsApp makes first move to charge business users

WhatsApp is also taking an increasingly central role in elections, especially in developing countries. Earlier this year, again in India, WhatsApp was used to send messages, some of which were completely false.

Ultimately, social engineering is all about tricking the user and manipulating them to carry out actions they will later regret. With an ability to manipulate replies, invent quotes or send private messages pretending to be group ones, as seen in this research, scammers would have a far greater chance of success and have yet another weapon in their arsenal.

What’s more, the larger the WhatsApp group, where a flurry of messages are often sent, the less likely a member would have the time or inclination to double check every message to verify its authenticity, and could easily be taken in by the information they see. As already seen by spam emails that fake the sender’s name to appear to be from a source the receiver trusts, this latest vulnerability would allow for similar methods to be used though from a totally different attack vector.

How to Protect Yourself from Misinformation

While there are no security products that can yet protect users from these types of deceptions, there are several ideas to keep in mind to avoid being a victim of fake news, conspiracy theories and online scams in general.

If something sounds too good to be true, it usually is. And likewise, if something sounds too ridiculous to be true, it probably is.

Misinformation spreads faster than the truth. Although you may be seeing the same news from multiple sources, this does not make it more factual than were it to come from a single source.

Check your ‘facts’. It is recommended to cross check what you see on social media with a quick online search to see what others may be saying about the same story. Or even better, do not get more of your news from social media websites at all.

Tech

UN signs MoU with Kenya’s Konza Technopolis

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The United Nations has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Kenya’s Konza Technopolis that will provide a wide range of interrelationships with the various UN agencies domiciled in Nairobi.

Konza CEO, John Paul Okwiri, who disclosed this in a statement on Monday, said the MoU would see Konza Technopolis working together with UN-Habitat, the World Food Programme, United Nations Educational, Scientific
and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), among other UN agencies.

“This MOU provides us with a collaborative platform whereby we bring our strengths and unite for a common good,” Okwiri said.

“The MoU will see Konza Technopolis partner with UN-Habitat and allow city-to-city benchmarking and learning exchanges, strengthening smart city growth including research and data sharing, implement local climate action initiatives including greening initiatives, promotion of non-motorised transport and formulation of smart city frameworks,” he added.

Also speaking on the partnership, Dr. Stephen Jackson, the Resident Coordinator for UN Kenya, said:

“Our MoU will support to explore points of synergies, and strategic partnerships in supporting Kenya and Konza Technopolis as part of Vision
2030 and UN Agenda 2030.”

Konza Technopolis, also known as the Silicon Savannah, is envisaged to be a smart city that will provide work and living space.

“The smart city spatial planning has taken into account provision of clustered industries, educational facilities, recreational parks, green spaces. It has one of the most modern waste recycling and water treatment plants,” Okwiri stated.

“The other areas of cooperation is with the UNDP whereby more than 20 innovators have received technical and financial support to achieve
commercialization and market entry, strategic partnership in the implementation of joint programs based on the Kenya Innovation Ecosystem Mapping.

“We have established the Konza Innovation Ecosystem Initiative (KIEI), which supports the creation of new enterprises, training of young innovators, and commercialization of research findings.

“To date the KIEI has supported over 100 startups and innovators, providing them with mentorship, funding, and access to market.

“We have established partnerships with over 50 institutions, such a UNDP, universities, research centers, and industry associations, to foster knowledge transfer and innovation.

“It has also facilitated the development and commercialization of over 30 innovative products and solutions, such as smart irrigation systems, e-health platforms, and
blockchain applications.

“The cooperation with UNESCO involves a tripartite Agreement together with the Chinese Association of Natural Science Museum (CANSM) which will see the development and management of Konza Natural Science Museum, resource mobilization for the development of the museum and technical advice support and capacity building and professional development programs,” he added.

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Tech

Kenya’s agri-tech startup Pula raises $20m funding for farmers’ insurance

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Kenyan agri-tech and insurance startup, Pula, has announced raising $20 million Series B funding round which will be used to help thousands of smallholder farmers in emerging markets gain access to insurance against floods, droughts, and other climate-related events.

The funding round, according to the company’s co-founder and CEO, Rose Goslinga, was led by BlueOrchard, a global impact investment manager and member of the Schroders Group, via its InsuResilience strategy, while fundraising also came from IFC and the Private Sector Window of the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP).

“Partnering with this group of like-minded investors to boost the growth of Pula globally is a very exciting milestone in driving our triple 100 vision, through which we intend to bring insurance to 100 million smallholder farmers,” Goslinga said.

“What started nine years ago as an unconventional idea that many deemed un-scalable is now a proven solution that has solved real needs for millions of smallholder farmers across 22 countries.

“What sets Pula apart is the innovative business model, leveraging artificial intelligence, on the ground data collection mechanisms, mobile-based registration systems, remote sensing, and end-to-end automation tools.”

Co-founder of the startup which was launched in 2015, Thomas Njeru, said “Pula designs and delivers innovative agricultural insurance and digital products to help smallholder farmers endure climate risks, improve their farming practices and bolster their incomes over time.”

“Since its inception, Pula has partnered with over 70 insurance, 20 reinsurance companies, and 100 distribution partners across the globe to deliver their innovative insurance solutions,” Njeru stated.

“This has also helped develop the capacity of local insurance and reinsurance players to understand and underwrite agricultural insurance for smallholder farmers.

“Currently, Pula’s main markets span across Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Malawi, Mozambique, and expanding our presence in Asia and Latin America. These markets are managed from Switzerland and coordinated from the Kenya service centre,” he added.

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