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Is A Mobile Virus Coming To Get You?

Millions of viruses being released. So how do you protect your phone from being hacked for its personal data and other disturbing activities?

Jon Tullett

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 Is my smartphone going to get a virus?

Chances are you’ve seen some sort of warning about mobile phone viruses. Mobile malware is on the rise, we’re told.

There are literally millions of viruses being released and if you don’t buy software to protect yourself, your phone will be looted for its personal data, used to call premium rate numbers until your bill maxes out, or even explode in your pocket.

Reality check

  • The chances of you getting a virus on your mobile phone is very, very small
  • Yes, there’s mobile malware (the more generic term for ‘nasty software’) out there, and lots of it, but you probably won’t come across it
  • Be very suspicious of scary virus alerts
  • But that doesn’t mean you can ignore the threat either.

What mobile malware is out there?

Virus-on-a-phone

In general, there are three broad kinds of malicious software. First there’s the kind which just tries to break stuff – electronic vandalism, basically. That’s old-school malware, and we don’t see much of it. The second kind tries to make money by subverting your phone.

It’ll make calls or send SMS messages to premium-rate numbers, reset your browser homepage to a site which displays ads (thereby generating ad revenue). And lastly there’s the kind which steals information – passwords, contact details, financial info. That data will either be sold on the black market or used for identity theft.

I hear all these scary numbers…

Oh, yes. You might have heard that there are multiple millions of mobile viruses in the wild. That 97% of them are found on Android devices. That the average user has dozens of potentially malicious apps on their phone.

Take a deep breath.

This is the antivirus industry doing what it’s done for years – exaggerating the threat to scare people into buying protective software. And because it wouldn’t look scary if the numbers were ever adjusted downwards, they just keep going up, year after year.

Every phone manufacturer has stringent security checks in place to prevent malicious software getting into their app stores. And while those checks aren’t perfect, they’re pretty good. There are drastically few outright malicious apps in official app stores. If you stick to those apps, you’re probably mostly fine, with some caveats that we’ll get to in a moment.

The vast majority – 99,9% of the malicious apps – are found in unofficial app stores. And which platform supports unofficial app stores? Android. Ergo, all the malware is on Android.

If you go out of your way to find third-party software – tick the ‘allow software from external sources’ setting, then click through the security warnings, then go looking for alternative software, then install it (again clicking through security warnings) – then yes, you might get a virus. But you’ve kinda asked for it, to be frank.

Those app stores aren’t rogue operations – they often serve parts of the world where there isn’t local support for developers. China and Russia have been notable hotbeds. A common technique is to repackage a popular app like Angry Birds, add something malicious, and distribute it there. So it’s genuinely tough luck for those users, but unless you’re side-loading software from a Chinese app store, you’re probably ok.

So I’m ok?

Unfortunately, there’s another risk, and this one’s real.

App stores block malicious software from getting to your phone, but they can’t protect you from yourself. If you install an app and give it permission to send SMS messages, then that’s what it will do. The app store won’t block that – it’s doing exactly what it said it would do.

So check those permissions. If you don’t know why an app needs a permission, either disable it or find an alternative app.

Be judicious about it: Big mainstream apps like Facebook and WhatsApp do ask for a sweeping set of permissions and while there are privacy concerns there, they’re not likely to conduct a malware attack.

But less popular apps with questionable permissions are best avoided. Only you can protect yourself from this risk, and most people are unfortunately very trusting when it comes to apps.

When to believe and not believe the alerts

Antivirus companies are guilty of overhyping the threat, and you should take their warnings with a pinch of salt, but they’re not actually malicious. Not so are the fake virus warnings, and those should be avoided like the plague. I’m sure you’ve seen them, if not on your phone then probably on your PC.

“Your phone/PC has a virus – click here to remove!” or “Your system is slow, click here to optimise!” even “Your WhatsApp is out of date – click here to update!” Ring any bells?

Those are lies. Every single one of them. And they will at best dupe you into buying some placebo non-functional fake antivirus, and at worst install malware of their own and get busy attacking your PC or phone. So don’t, whatever you do, ever click them. They’re not system messages, they’re just ads, being pushed out through the usual advertising channels. If nothing else, ask yourself whether you should be making a trusted purchase from an entity which stoops to such a level to promote their product.

In short: Any ad which makes a system maintenance claim of any sort is a scam.

Be wary of ads

Protecting-a-phone-from-virus

And that brings me to the last area of concern, which is those advertising networks. A popular business model for app developers is ad-supported freeware – you and I get to download the app for free, and we get the occasional ad popping up. Unless it’s particularly obnoxious and in-your-face, it’s a fair deal, right?

In principle, yes, but in practice there are some serious risks. For one thing there’s the duplicitous business practice I described already, but there are actually architectural risks – those ad networks are poorly secured and can be attacked to push malicious software down to phones instead of adverts.

That isn’t hypothetical – there are real-world demos of this in practice. And no hype this time, Android really is more at risk. Apple and Microsoft less so, and BlackBerry (which operates its own, closed ad network) has no known vulnerabilities so far.

And you can’t blame the app developer – they don’t have much control over what’s pushed down by the ad servers. So what to do?

If you’re paranoid (because honestly, the risk here is currently very small), avoid ad-supported apps and just pay the couple of bucks for an ad-free version. Realistically, most of you will ignore this advice – the freemium model is too deeply ingrained in our web psyche to overcome that easily.

But bear it in mind, and in particular consider dumping any apps which subscribe to ad networks promoting those fake virus messages.

Do I really need mobile antivirus then?

So if the risk of mobile malware is so much less than the vendors claim, and you’re a bit more careful with choosing which apps you install, do you need antivirus on your phone?

Well, it depends. Although antivirus software isn’t actually all that good at catching malware (the CEO of Symantec, one of the antivirus market leaders, recently admitted that antiviruses only catches about 45% of threats), the security suites actually do offer a lot more than just malware protection.

Depending on the product, it’ll check for apps which are known to misbehave in other ways, look for suspicious activity, back up your data, let you locate your phone geographically, remotely lock and wipe the device, and so on. You can do lots of that on your own, but the security tools bring it all together.

Do you absolutely need it? No. Is it a useful set of tools for the security-aware mobile user? Yes. For the record, I have no antivirus on my phone, but I do have security apps to lock it down.

If you change only two things after reading this article, it should be this: Be more critical about the permissions apps ask for and reject those which are suspicious. And back up your data – so many bad things can happen to a phone, but there’s never an excuse for losing data.

Jon Tullett, Senior editor at ITWeb has been covering information technology for two decades, working as a journalist and editor in South Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He is currently responsible for news analysis and spokesperson for the Security Summit, Africa’s premier information security event for IT and business professionals. Jon has trained in computer forensics, visited Interpol's cyber crime task force in Lyon, chaired numerous security events and seminars, judged technology awards, and developed testing protocols for a lab operation which reviewed dozens of security products every month. He has very, very, long passwords.

How to Guides

Is It Time To Consider Renewable Energy To Power Your Business?

Can your business afford the 33% electricity hike that Eskom is proposing? If not, you should look into some of the renewable energy options South Africa has to offer.

Nicole Crampton

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In the past there was load shedding, now there are proposed high price increases, and more potential load shedding due to the strike action. Many businesses previously resorted to generators as alternative energy sources, but with the growing customer demand for more environmentally conscious options, they won’t be satisfied with this alternative energy solution.

Keeping a business operating in South Africa is hard enough without losing funds every time the electricity goes out, and although generators are known as the back-up, with the increase in petrol/diesel prices is this still a feasible long-term solution?

You may want to consider a more permanent renewable energy alternative, to both reduce your electricity bill, regardless of future tariff hikes, and demonstrate that your business cares about the environment.

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How Brigid Prinsloo Made (A Lot Of) Money On Airbnb

With the explosive success of Airbnb, the property investment landscape is changing. An increasing number of property owners are finding that it’s far more lucrative to rent out a property by the night than to install a long-term tenant.

GG van Rooyen

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It is possible to build property riches starting from a small base. This couple shows you how they did it. They’ve also launched a business that makes it easier to rent your property on Airbnb.

Although Brigid Prinsloo is a dyed-in-the-wool Capetonian who absolutely loves the city, she isn’t spending a whole lot of time there right now.

Like many young people, she’s pulled up stakes and hit the road, determined to see the world. When Entrepreneur spoke to her via Skype, she was busy exploring Vietnam with her Fiancée.

But, unlike many people who finance their travels by selling their homes and possessions, Prinsloo hasn’t liquidated her assets.

Related: 10 Weird And Wonderful Airbnb Listings, Including A New York Taxi And An Igloo

Instead, she has done the opposite – she has invested in a couple of properties that she lists on Airbnb.

The income from these rentals is significant enough to not only cover their respective bonds, but to bankroll her travels as well.

How has she managed it? And, more importantly, is it something that others can accomplish as well? Entrepreneur asked her to reveal the secrets to making a killing on Airbnb.

1. Getting Started: Listing Your First Property on Airbnb

How did you start listing on Airbnb?

Brigid Prinsloo

Brigid Prinsloo – Superhost SA

I used Airbnb during a trip to London and Dublin, and the experience was a very positive one. When I got home, I decided to try being a host. My fiancé and I had a spare room in our flat, which had morphed into a dishevelled storage room.

Almost on a whim, we decided to try and rent it out on Airbnb. We had a very ‘Lean Start-up’ approach to the whole exercise. Our small room acted as a minimum viable product (MVP), we listed it simply as a way of gauging interest.

Well, within an hour of listing the room, we received our first inquiry. Within the first day, we had our first booking. We weren’t prepared.

We ended up moving our own comfy bed into the room, just to ensure our guest could enjoy a decent night’s sleep, and slept on a spare bed ourselves.

By the end of that first month, we had earned close to R10 000 by renting out the room. The rent for our entire two-bedroom flat was R10 500 per month. We realised that we could earn a tidy sum by renting out an entire flat.

My fiancée and I purchased a property that we now rent out, and I also purchased a second property with my dad and my sister, which we’ve also listed on Airbnb.

Resource: New Ways SMEs Can Find Funding

2. Return on Investment: Making Money on Airbnb

How much income can you expect to earn on your Airbnb property per month?

There are obviously loads of different kinds of listings on Airbnb – everything from cheap spare rooms to lavish mansions. Based on the investment we’ve made, though, I’m very happy with the return we’ve seen.

If you take the entire amount that my fiancée and I have earned from renting our flat out through Airbnb and divide that by the number of months that it’s been listed, the average monthly earning is about R23 000.

And this is a property that had been rented out to a long-term tenant for about R6 000 by a previous owner. What’s great about this sort of investment, of course, is that the income generated is fairly passive, which is why I can afford be in Vietnam while everything ticks over at home.

Airbnb-accomodation

High quality images are important when listing your property on Airbnb.

3. Birth of Superhost: An Airbnb Management Company

Is there an easy way to manage multiple Airbnb properties?

If you’re renting out one room – or even one flat – managing your rental is fairly easy. However, once you start listing a couple of properties, managing them can become quite a task.

For example, someone needs to welcome guests and hand over the keys, ensure that the flat is clean, and even take care of all the admin that goes with managing a listing on Airbnb.

superhostsouthafrica

Brigid Prinsloo has made far more by listing her property on Airbnb then she could ever earn through long-term rentals.

We started a service called Superhost SA, which assists Airbnb hosts in managing their listings. As the popularity of Airbnb has grown, companies focusing on offer management services have popped up in lots of major cities.

Resource: 10 Businesses You Can Start Part-Time

For around 17% of the revenue earned, a company like Superhost will assist with the nitty gritty of renting out a space on Airbnb.

4. Location, Location, Location? Which is Best for Airbnb Property Owners

How important is location when it comes to listing a property on Airbnb?

Location is important, there is no doubt about it. A lot of travellers will judge a listing by what is within walking distance of the space.

So it is worth trying to get hold of a property in a decent location, even if it means you might have to go for something a tad smaller.

That said, however, you’ll find that the listings on Airbnb in Cape Town are surprisingly spread out. Services such as Uber have made it easier for people to travel in foreign cities. So location is important, but you certainly don’t need to be situated in the very heart of town.

Airbnb-location

Airbnb guests look for listings that are affordable, centrally located and well-equipped.

5. How to Build An Airbnb Property Empire

Can you build real wealth through Airbnb listed properties?

Some people are using Airbnb to build empires, there’s no doubt about it. You find that some people in large cities like New York have massive Airbnb portfolios with 200 listings.

Airbnb is providing an interesting alternative to the traditional strategy of buying properties and renting them out to long-term tenants to pay them off. You can make far more money from Airbnb.

That said, Airbnb isn’t going to turn you into a multi-millionaire overnight. Building up a portfolio will take time.

We might be able to pay off the bond on our flat in four years instead of 20 thanks to Airbnb, for example, but it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme. It will still take time.

Another interesting way to potentially make money through Airbnb is to rent a property and list it on Airbnb. But you don’t want to do it illegally.

Related: Watch List: 11 Teen Entrepreneurs Who Have Launched Successful Businesses

Airbnb has had to deal with some backlash overseas because of tenants who were illegally subletting their flats. You need to be honest with the landlord and make sure that he or she is okay with it.

Airbnb-lounge

Want to attract the right kind of guests? Create a listing that is cosy and inviting, and adds some local flavour.

6. How to Make Your Listing Stand Out

How do you achieve and maintain a high occupancy on Airbnb?

A lot of people are noticing the income potential of being an Airbnb host. In fact, Cape Town alone now boasts close to 10 000 listings on the website. So how do you make your listing stand out? Here’s Brigid Prinsloo’s suggestions:

Airbnb-listing

Airbnb boasts millions of listings so it’s crucial to make your listings stand out. High quality images are important.

1. Create a pretty listing

Hide the laundry, flush the toilet and make the bed before you upload an image of your flat on Airbnb.

Not only should the flat you’re listing look clean, modern and inviting, but you should also make sure that you post excellent pictures of it online. It’s even worth making use of a professional photographer.

2. Undercut the competition

You might not be better, but you can certainly be cheaper. Undercutting the competition is a worthwhile strategy.

The more people have visited you, rated your place and commented on your service, the higher your listing will be placed on the website. This means that new hosts can find themselves languishing at the bottom of search results, far from the eyes of potential guests.

Prinsloo suggests listing your space just below the market standard (5 – 10% below). “Most people filter search results by price, so being slightly cheaper than the competition will help you get noticed,” she says.

3. Connectivity is important

Around 70% of South African Airbnb guests are from overseas.

While these people won’t be travelling thousands of kilometres to sit in a room and watch TV, they’ll probably still want access to DStv.

Wi-Fi is another must-have for those looking to share their ‘African experience’ on social media. And it better be fast and uncapped.

4. Be friendly and helpful

As mentioned, reviews are important on Airbnb. And if you want to receive a good review you need to provide a great experience.

“A lot of people are looking for that personal peer-to-peer experience. They don’t want to feel as if they’re living in someone else’s room with their clothes in the cupboard and toiletries in the bathroom, but they do appreciate that personal.

Being friendly and helpful goes a long way. If someone is from out of town, it’s a good idea to provide them with hints on where to go and what to do in the city,” says Prinsloo.   

5. Add personal touches

You’re not a hotel, but you can still try to make your space as cosy and inviting as well. A good way of doing this: Provide those nice-to-haves like soap, shampoo and great coffee.

Related: 10 Tips for Finding Seed Funding

Prinsloo always provides a couple of bottles of local wine as well.

7. The Risks of Listing a Property on Airbnb

What are the risks associated with listing a property on Airbnb?

1. Damages

Whenever you hand over the keys to your house and possessions to complete strangers, there is an element of risk involved. However, Airbnb tries to mitigate this risk by allowing hosts to vet guests (and vice versa) to an impressive degree.

Guests and hosts verify their IDs by connecting to their social networks and scanning their official ID document. Although there are some horror stories out there, listing needn’t be terribly risky.

You just need to try and make sure who you’re dealing with.

Air-bnb-property

Handing your valuable possessions over to strangers can be intimidating. It’s important to do everything you can to mitigate the risks.

2. Liability

What happens when a guest breaks a leg while descending your stairs, chops off a finger with your kitchen knife or shocks himself with your electric fence (foreigners aren’t as familiar with electric fencing as we are).

Related: Luthuli Capital Co-Founder’s Advice On How To Start When You Can’t Get Finance

We live in an increasingly litigious society, and should something go wrong, you could find yourself being threatened with a lawsuit. Because of this, it’s a good idea to ask guests to sign a waiver that absolves your from any culpability.

3. Squatting

It’s great when guests arrive, but what happens when they won’t leave?

Airbnb rental falls into a murky category of property rental that could see you deal with the same legal hassles as someone trying to get rid of squatting long-term tenants. Squatter’s rights can make this very difficult.

It is a good idea to consult a lawyer to help draft a contract that will offer some form of recourse in the event of squatting guests.

4. Regulations

Some body corporates and home-owners’ associations will be less than impressed with the prospect of total strangers coming and going from your property at all hours.

Related: How Kevin Hart Went From Being A Comedian To The Guy Who Owns Comedy

You need to ensure that other home owners don’t have problem with the listing of your property on Airbnb. The last thing you want is for them to take their frustrations out on your guests.


Related: Watch List: 20 SA Tech Entrepreneurs Making It Big In The Industry

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How to Guides

(Podcast) Phone Calls Often Solve Email Problems

Irate customers can become your most ardent supporters, but it’s important to treat your clients like people. People like people, and phone calls are more personal than emails.

Nicholas Haralambous

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Emails solve problems – but they also create them. When a real problem arises in your business, is an email the best way to solve it, or should you pick up the phone and give your customer a more personal experience?

Irate customers can become your most ardent supporters, but it’s important to treat your clients like people. People like people, and phone calls are more personal than emails.

Listening time: 3 minutes

Related: (Podcast) Being An Entrepreneur Is Painful

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