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Anti-spam service Truecaller adds free voice calling feature

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Truecaller, an app best known for helping users screen calls from strangers and spammers, is adding yet another feature to its service as it bolsters its super app status. The Stockholm-based firm said today that its app can now be used to place free VoIP-powered voice calls.

The company told TechCrunch on Tuesday that it has started to roll out the free voice calling feature to its Android users. It expects the rollout to reach all Android users in the coming days. The feature, which currently only supports calls between two users, will arrive on its iOS app soon.

In emerging markets such as India, where 100 million of Truecaller’s 140 million users live, free voice calls has been a long-sought after feature. Until late 2016, voice calls were fairly expensive in India, with telecom operators counting revenue from traditional calls as their biggest profit generator.

But in last two and a half years, things have changed dramatically for hundreds of millions of people in India after Reliance Jio, a telecom operator owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani, launched its network with free voice calls and low-priced data services. Reliance Jio has already amassed over 300 million users to become one of the top three telcos in the nation.

Yet, the quality of network still leaves much to be desired in India as traditional calls drop abruptly and run into quality issues more often than one would like. Truecaller said that its voice calls rely on data services — mobile data and Wi-Fi — and claimed that they can work swiftly even on patchy network.

The addition of voice calling functionality comes as Truecaller aggressively looks to expand its business. The service, which offers both ad-support free tier and subscription bundle, has added messaging, mobile payments, and call recording features in recent years. Earlier this year, it also added a crediting option, allowing users in India to borrow a few hundred dollars.

A representative with the company said Truecaller began exploring the free voice calling feature a few months ago. It began testing the new functionality with alpha and beta test group users four weeks ago. It now plans to introduce group voice calling support soon, the company said.

With the new feature, Truecaller now competes even more closely with WhatsApp . The Facebook-owned app has become ubiquitous in India with more than three-quarters of India’s smartphone base using the app. WhatsApp added voice calling feature to its app in 2015. Last year, Facebook said users around the world were spending 2 billion minutes per day on WhatsApp video and audio calls.

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Demand for fee to use password app LastPass sparks backlash

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Enlarge (credit: Leon Neal | Getty Images)

A popular app that promised to eliminate the burden of remembering passwords has sparked a backlash by demanding, weeks after it was acquired by two private equity firms, that users pay up or face restrictions on access to their online accounts.

LastPass has encouraged millions of people to replace weak passwords on retail websites, internet banks and other online services. Instead, the software handles authentication automatically using long, complex passwords that are impossible to guess—or remember.

Two investment firms, Elliott Management and Francisco Partners, acquired the service as part of their $4.3 billion buyout of internet software group LogMeIn in September last year.

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Tens of thousands of US organizations hit in ongoing Microsoft Exchange hack

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Tens of thousands of US-based organizations are running Microsoft Exchange servers that have been backdoored by threat actors who are stealing administrator passwords and exploiting critical vulnerabilities in the email and calendaring application, it was widely reported. Microsoft issued emergency patches on Tuesday, but they do nothing to disinfect systems that are already compromised.

KrebsOnSecurity was the first to report the mass hack. Citing multiple unnamed people, reporter Brian Krebs put the number of compromised US organizations at at least 30,000. Worldwide, Krebs said there were at least 100,000 hacked organizations. Other news outlets, also citing unnamed sources, quickly followed with posts reporting the hack had hit tens of thousands of organizations in the US.

Assume compromise

“This is the real deal,” Chris Krebs, the former head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, said on Twitter, referring to the attacks on on-premisis Exchange, which is also known as Outlook Web Access. “If your organization runs an OWA server exposed to the internet, assume compromise between 02/26-03/03.” His comments accompanied a Tweet on Thursday from Jake Sullivan, the White House national security advisor to President Biden.

Hafnium has company

Microsoft on Tuesday said on-premises Exchange servers were being hacked in “limited targeted attacks” by a China-based hacking group the software maker is calling Hafnium. Following Friday’s post from Brian Krebs, Microsoft updated its post to say that it was seeing “increased use of these vulnerabilities in attacks targeting unpatched systems by multiple malicious actors beyond HAFNIUM.”

Katie Nickels, director of intelligence at security firm Red Canary, told Ars that her team has found Exchange servers that were compromised by hackers using tactics, techniques, and procedures that are distinctly different than those used by the Hafnium group Microsoft named. She said Red Canary has counted five “clusters that look differently from each other, [though] telling if the people behind those are different or not is really challenging and unclear right now.”

On Twitter, Red Canary said that some of the compromised Exchange servers the company has tracked ran malware that fellow security firm Carbon Black analyzed in 2019. The malware was part of an attack that installed cryptomining software called DLTminer. It’s unlikely Hafnium would install a payload like that.

Microsoft said that Hafnium is a skilled hacking group from China that focuses primarily on stealing data from US-based infectious disease researchers, law firms, higher-education institutions, defense contractors, policy think tanks, and nongovernmental organizations. The group, Microsoft said, was hacking servers by either exploiting the recently fixed zeroday vulnerabilities or by using compromised administrator credentials.

It’s not clear what percentage of infected servers are the work of Hafnium. Microsoft on Tuesday warned that the ease of exploiting the vulnerabilities made it likely other hack groups would soon join Hafnium. If ransomware groups aren’t yet among the clusters compromising servers, it’s almost inevitable that they soon will be.

Backdooring servers

Brian Krebs and others reported that tens of thousands of Exchange servers had been compromised with a webshell, which hackers install once they’ve gained access to a server. The software allows attackers to enter administrative commands through a terminal Window that’s accessed through a web browser.

Researchers have been careful to note that simply installing the patches Microsoft issued in Tuesday’s emergency release would do nothing to disinfect servers that have already been backdoored. The webshells and any other malicious software that have been installed will persist until it is actively removed, ideally by completely rebuilding the server.

People who administer Exchange servers in their networks should drop whatever they’re doing right now and carefully inspect their machines for signs of compromise. Microsoft has listed indicators of compromise here. Admins can also use this script from Microsoft to test if their environments are affected.

This week’s escalation of Exchange server hacks comes three months after security professionals uncovered the hack of at least nine federal agencies and about 100 companies. The primary vector for infections was through software updates from network tools maker SolarWinds. The mass hack was one of—if not the—the worst computer intrusions in US history. It’s possible the Exchange Server will soon claim that distinction.

There’s still much that remains unknown. For now, people would do well to follow Chris Krebs’ advice to assume on-premises servers are compromised and act accordingly.

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China’s and Russia’s spying spree will take years to unpack

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First it was SolarWinds, a reportedly Russian hacking campaign that stretches back almost a year and has felled at least nine US government agencies and countless private companies. Now it’s Hafnium, a Chinese group that’s been attacking a vulnerability in Microsoft Exchange Server to sneak into victims’ email inboxes and beyond. The collective toll of these espionage sprees is still being uncovered. It may never be fully known.

Countries spy on each other, everywhere, all the time. They always have. But the extent and sophistication of Russia’s and China’s latest efforts still manage to shock. And the near-term fallout of both underscores just how tricky it can be to take the full measure of a campaign even after you’ve sniffed it out.

By now you’re probably familiar with the basics of the SolarWinds attack: Likely Russian hackers broke into the IT management firm’s networks and altered versions of its Orion network monitoring tool, exposing as many as 18,000 organizations. The actual number of SolarWinds victims is assumed to be much smaller, although security analysts have pegged itin at least the low hundreds so far. And as SolarWinds CEO Sudhakar Ramakrishna has eagerly pointed out to anyone who will listen, his was not the only software supply chain company that the Russians hacked in this campaign, implying a much broader ecosystem of victims than anyone has yet accounted for.

“It’s become clear that there’s much more to learn about this incident, its causes, its scope, its scale, and where we go from here,” said Senate Intelligence Committee chair Mark Warner (D-Virginia) at a hearing related to the SolarWinds hack last week. Brandon Wales, acting director of the US Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, estimated in an interview with MIT Technology Review this week that it could take up to 18 months for US government systems alone to recover from the hacking spree, to say nothing of the private sector.

That lack of clarity goes double for the Chinese hacking campaign that Microsoft disclosed Tuesday. First spotted by security firm Volexity, a nation-state group that Microsoft calls Hafnium has been using multiple zero-day exploits—which attack previously unknown vulnerabilities in software—to break into Exchange Servers, which manage email clients including Outlook. There, they could surreptitiously read through the email accounts of high-value targets.

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