Known Senders Option In Google Calendar Decreases Spam Invites

Recently, Google’s engineers introduced a small but important feature to their Calendar app.  If you haven’t used the “known senders” option, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

It allows you to toggle a setting that will filter out invites from people you don’t know, with an eye toward eliminating or drastically reducing instances of invites from people you don’t know automatically appearing in your calendar.

It’s a surprisingly good addition because prior to its inclusion, you had to jump through an annoying number of hoops to filter out unknown senders. This was done in a process which forced you to disable automatic event additions entirely, meaning that you had to respond manually to every invitation.

Google had been promising this fix since 2019 but time, circumstance, and recent events including the pandemic delayed its release significantly.  Its recent release received little fanfare and with everything going on, it would be no great surprise if you missed it.

It’s worth mentioning that the new setting won’t do anything to prevent you from receiving spam invitations, but they won’t land on your calendar, which is what most people are after.

It’s a small change but much more helpful than you might think. It is one of a multitude of recent improvements to a whole range of Google’s Workspace apps in recent months.

If you rely on Google Calendar to help keep yourself organized, you’re sure to love this feature.

Kudos to Google for continuing the hard work of continuous improvement with an eye toward an ever-better user experience.  It is work that often goes unnoticed and underappreciated but over the last few years, we’ve seen Google’s entire suite of productivity apps improve markedly. We can hardly wait to see what further improvements lie ahead.

Some Carrier Embedded Android Apps May Have Security Vulnerabilities

Recently, Microsoft reported high severity security vulnerabilities in multiple apps offered by large international mobile service providers.  What makes this especially noteworthy is the fact that these vulnerabilities aren’t app specific, but framework specific.  Many carriers use the same basic framework to construct their apps and now all have been found to contain vulnerabilities.

The vulnerabilities discovered to this point are being tracked as CVE-2021-42598, CVE-2021-42599, CVE-2021-42600, and CVE-2021-42601, respectively.

The framework is owned by a company called mce Systems.  All vulnerabilities center around command injection and privilege escalation type attacks.  Carriers with apps that are impacted include AT&T, TELUS, Rogers Communications, Bell Canada, and Freedom Mobile.

Members of the Microsoft 365 Defender team had this to say about the issue:

“The apps were embedded in the devices’ system image, suggesting that they were default applications installed by phone providers.

All of the apps are available on the Google Play Store where they go through Google Play Protect’s automatic safety checks, but these checks previously did not scan for these types of issues.

As it is with many of pre-installed or default applications that most Android devices come with these days, some of the affected apps cannot be fully uninstalled or disabled without gaining root access to the device.”

This is a problem with a truly vast scope.  Just counting the number of downloads from the Google Play Store, the number runs into the millions.  Add to that the number of installed instances that were pre-installed on phones sold by the vendors above, and the scope and scale is simply mindboggling.

If there’s a silver lining to be found, it lies in the fact that all the vendors who have had apps impacted by this issue have already issued updates to fix the problem.

If you have a phone sold to you by any of the providers above, check all your installed apps and make sure you’re running the latest versions.  Better safe than sorry.

Security Warnings Coming To Certain Google Apps To Help Users

Google has been making some fantastic changes to bolster user security in recent weeks. That includes changes to their Google Play Store that will require developers to disclose exactly what data they plan to track and collect when users install the apps they create.

In a related vein, the tech giant has also recently added some powerful new security features to Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides that now display warning banners any time users attempt to open a suspicious file on the web.

Too often, users will open a file without giving much thought to who put it before them or where it resides (whether a trusted network drive or somewhere on the cloud, for example).  Unfortunately, hackers are keenly aware of this and will often plant poisoned files that appear to be legitimate work files in places where users are likely to find them. Then, the hackers simply sit back and wait until they reel someone in.

These recent changes to Google Workspace apps are designed with one goal in mind. To help the people using those apps make better decisions bout whether to open a file, even if it looks completely legitimate.

This new warning feature builds on a system the company began implementing for Google Drive files back in January of this year (2022) and uses the same warning banners you’ll find there.  A bright yellow, hard to miss banner appearing at the top of the page after a user has clicked on a link, but before the file is downloaded.

These brightly colored banners display warning messages essentially asking the user if he or she is sure about downloading a file from an untrusted source that may contain malicious code.  Note that Enterprise users were a bit slower than everyone else to get the new functionality because of the way Google organized the rollout. By the time you read this, they should be visible for everyone.

Google Soon Informing Users About What Data Apps Collect

A small but important change is coming to your Android apps.  Soon you’ll notice a new Data Safety section on the Google Play Store which will provide greater transparency about exactly what data the apps you install are collecting.

The change is meant to serve as a “privacy label” that will allow users to evaluate the data an app will collect on them before they install it, so they can make better and more informed decisions about what to install.

In addition to requiring developers to disclose exactly what data they ‘re collecting, they will also have to disclose what data they will share with third parties. That essentially forces development teams to disclose the purpose behind the collection.

The new feature will also give users access to more than just the high-level view.  For additional details, they’ll be able to click on any given data category to find out the particulars involved.

That sounds amazing but believe it or not, there’s more.  The third leg of the new Data Safety section will include details about the app’s security practices, outlining what specific mechanisms the developers use to protect and safeguard collected data.  Here, users will also be able to see if they’re given the option to ask for the deletion of their collected data at any time.

On top of that, the new Data Safety section will specify if the app in question adheres to the Google Play Families Policy which is aimed squarely at protecting children.

Google is taking a careful and measured approach to the rollout. So if you have an Android device, don’t expect that you’ll start seeing details in the Data Safety section right away. It will happen over the next few weeks. It will appear and then get increasingly fleshed out.

As of now, app Developers can begin declaring how collected data is used and they have until July 20th of this year (2022) to complete their submissions.

These are fantastic changes.  Kudos to Google for this.  Great news indeed.

Google Play Store Is Seeing More Trojan Style Malware

A security researcher who goes by the name “Dr. Web” has been tracking a suspicious increase in Trojan infiltration emanating from the Google Play Store.

It is not currently known whether a single organized and determined group of hackers is responsible for the surge or if several groups just happen to be focused on the Play Store at around the same time.

Although a variety of malware strains have been spotted embedded in poisoned versions of apps on the Play Store the focus has been on highly popular apps with 500,000 installs or more.  In addition to that, there’s a new Android Trojan disguised as a WhatsApp mod.

Other than ‘apps with lots of installs,’ there doesn’t seem to be a clear pattern.  Several poisoned apps were cryptocurrency management tools, Gasprom investment clones, photo editors, and the like.

Broadly speaking at least where investment-oriented apps are concerned, the gimmick was to get an unsuspecting user to create a new account and then deposit money into it which would be siphoned off later.  In cases of other types of apps, invariably there would be a request made to sign up for expensive subscription services.

The good news is that at this time this piece was written, most of the poisoned apps have been removed from the Play Store.  Unfortunately, there are still a few holdouts.  For example, the app called “Top Navigation” is known to be poisoned but at the time of this writing is still available on the Play Store. Even Worse is it boasts more than half a million installations.

Since Google has been busily chasing down and removing the poisoned apps, the group behind this latest campaign has been setting their sights a bit lower. They now seem to be poisoning apps like Advice Photo Power with around  100,000 installations.

The bottom line is that while the Play Store is still mostly safe it’s not a completely safe source for malware-free apps so stay on your guard.

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