Hackers target WhatsApp users in Saudi Arabia with new phone scam

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Updated 22 December 2019

Hackers target WhatsApp users in Saudi Arabia with new phone scam

  • Precautions urged to protect data and money from hackers

JEDDAH: WhatsApp users in Saudi Arabia have witnessed a rise in cases of hacking. The problem begins when users receive messages from one of their contacts requesting a code to join a group or a copy of the ATM card to deposit an amount of money, without realizing that they are communicating directly with a hacker.

Abdullah Al-Sabe, a technology specialist, said that the issue always starts with a message on WhatsApp in which an unknown person asks the user to join a group and send a code.

Once the hacker receives this code, he can easily use the victim’s device, send messages to his contact list and ask for money transfers. The only solution, he said, is to never interact with unknown users and never to respond to messages asking to follow some link or to enter any code.

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Talat Zaki Hafiz, the secretary-general of Saudi banks’ media and banking awareness committee, said that hacking was part of the dark side of technology.

“You get links through emails or SMS or WhatsApp text. By interacting with them, users get in the trap and risk getting their devices hacked,” he said.

Saudi banks, the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority, all mobile phone operators and the Capital Market Authority regularly send warning messages to the public to avoid responding to such messages because they can carry programs that pull data from phones. 

He asked people to ignore such messages and report the suspicious message to the unified number 330330 via SMS. He added that there had been a positive response from the public about the awareness campaigns. If users suspect their bank details have been hacked, they should call their bank to take the proper action such as canceling bank cards. Users should make sure that they never reveal their bank account password or card details.

FASTFACTS

• In 2018, about 2,613 fraud cases were reported and the cost was estimated at SR170 million ($45 million).

• In the first half of 2019, the number of fraud complaints was about 1,063 amounting to about SR49 million.

“Despite the fact that there is a huge number of frauds worldwide, the Saudi financial system — including the banking system — has the world lowest fraud taking place in the system compared to the huge number of transactions taking place daily through different channels,” Hafiz said.

Important steps 

Dr. Talal Albalawi, information security assistant professor at the College of Computer and Information Sciences, Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud University, said that if users suspect that their account is compromised, they should try to do the following:

• If you cannot log into your WhatsApp account on your phone, try logging in from the WhatsApp desktop app to check if your account is compromised.

• Delete the app and download it again to register using the same phone number and SIM card used to register your account the first time. This will log out the hacker because WhatsApp does not allow for two logins at the same time to the same account.

• Alert family and friends that your account has been compromised to prevent further theft and damage.

It is always recommended that you follow certain steps as a precaution to better secure your WhatsApp account:

• Two-step verification, which is recommended for any app to make it more difficult for hackers to compromise accounts. In such settings you are required to enter your PIN when registering a new phone with your mobile number. You are required to re-enter the PIN at random timing again to make sure that the account is not compromised 

• If you login using WhatsApp web, make sure to logout when your session is finished.

• Also using a lock app is recommended, where you must input a PIN before you can launch the WhatsApp or any other application.

Check Point Research, which provides cybersecurity solutions, has announced a new vulnerability that it tested on WhatsApp. The damage can lead to crashing of the app for all members of a certain group. To overcome this problem, users need to uninstall and reinstall the application and delete the group that contains the message.


Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

Updated 10 April 2020

Turkey tightens control on social media platforms

  • Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent

ISTANBUL: Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter will be legally bound to appoint a formal representative in Turkey under a new draft law that will be brought to the country’s parliament soon.

The bill is initially designed for the government’s fight against the spread of the coronavirus, but it covers clauses about social media restrictions.

According to the experts, if adopted, this bill will pave the way for exercising government pressure on the platforms.

Failure to comply with the requirements could shrink their access by Turkish users by up to 95 percent. The social media platforms are also obliged to share users’ information with the prosecutors’ office when required.

They will also have to execute decisions coming from the criminal courts for “content removal” and/or “access denial” without any exception. Even individuals may apply to state authorities to ask the platforms to remove content. The platforms could be fined up to 1 million Turkish lira if they do not comply with the request within 24 hours.

It is still unclear whether news outlets with social media sites will also have to abide by these requirements.

Last August, the state-run Turkish Radio and Television Supreme Council (RTUK) was officially granted the authority to regulate and monitor online platforms, including series on digital TV platforms such as Netflix, news broadcasts on YouTube and social media platforms delivering news on a regular basis. Those broadcasting online were obliged to get a license first from RTUK. According to that legislation, overseas companies who broadcast in Turkey on the internet are also required to establish a company and obtain a license.

Dr. Sarphan Uzunoglu, a scholar at Istanbul’s Kadir Has University and editor in chief of NewsLabTurkey.org, said it had long been the wish of the Turkish government to keep Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Twitter — as some of the most-used social networks in the country — under control.

“This new draft that will be brought to the parliament is a concrete step toward making Turkey’s digital sphere more controllable than ever for the government,” he told Arab News.

According to Uzunoglu, it is natural that Twitter, Facebook, Google and others are questioned by governments worldwide due to their financial activities and uncontrolled flow of money worldwide.

“Some responsible governments and politicians always question this shady feature of social networks. However, unfortunately, Turkey is not one of these countries or Turkish politicians aren’t the kind of politicians that think (about) the privacy of individuals. All they want is clearly a person who will be like an ambassador for the brand in their country whom they can get in touch with on a regular basis,” he said.

The bill also requires that all data about Turkish social media users be stored in Turkey.

Uzunoglu thinks that the daily routine of such a representative will not be very different from the life of the US ambassador in the time of crisis between US and Turkey.

“The only difference is, the government will try to keep this person and social network for everything in the platform. So that will be a disaster for both the operation of the social platform and the democracy of the country. And unlike an ambassador, the national law system in Turkey will be imposed on them. So, Facebook or Twitter won’t be different from any other web site active in Turkey,” he said.

Turkey has also increased control over social media during the coronavirus outbreak. More than 400 people have been arrested for “provocative” posts on their social media accounts about the virus.

Turkey has blocked access to social media platforms several times in the recent past, especially after the military deployments to Syria.

As social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter host the remaining free-speech platforms and provide an alternative information flow, Uzunoglu thinks that being forced to give away data about their users will be an attack on individual privacy.

“This definitely shows that the government is living in a completely different reality, or they imagine to live in a completely different world,” he said.

Uzunoglu also drew attention to the problematic timing of the move, especially under the extraordinary conditions caused by COVID-19.

“Just think about the Internet freedom related activism of the early 2010s when people went into the streets for the first time to protect Internet freedom. Comparing it to the self-isolation period that we are experiencing right now, it would be naive to think that it is just coincidental,” he said.