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Jack Wallen takes one more opportunity to remind Android device owners to use those phones with a great deal of caution; otherwise, they could become victims of malware.

Image: Google

The year 2020 is coming to a close. In fact, this is the very last piece I will pen for TechRepublic this year, and wow, has it been a doozy of a year. Don’t worry, I’m not about to go off on the train wreck these past 365 days has been. Instead, I want to offer one final reminder for the year. I bring this reminder out now and then to serve as a cautionary tale to help Android users to better understand a truth they need to grasp. 

That truth centers around the security of your mobile device. No matter how many times I pull this “oldie, but goodie” out, Android users continue to ignore best practices, only to find themselves victim of a malware or ransomware attack on their mobile devices.  

It doesn’t have to be that way.

SEE: Identity theft protection policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Google’s Play Protect is part of the problem

Google’s Play Protect gives users a false sense of security. Play Protect is supposed to protect devices from installing software that contains malware. For the most part, it does a pretty good job.

Read that sentence again. It should read, “Play Protect does a great job of preventing malware from finding its way on your devices.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t. 

In fact, Play Protect hasn’t stopped malicious software from getting uploaded to the Play Store and then installed on devices around the globe. Anyone that shrugs off security, assuming they are protected, is living under a false equivalency.

Everyone, say it with me: “Google Play Protect is not guaranteed protection.” It’s as simple as that. The problem goes even deeper, because the anti-malware tools found on the Google Play Store aren’t much better. What’s an Android user to do? You certainly cannot always count on that Protected by Play Protect badge as you install apps (Figure A).

Figure A


Play Protect is protecting this device–or is it?

I’m not saying Google shirks its duties in protecting users. In fact, Google does a pretty good job with the task of security. However, Google faces down almost impossible odds every single day. Just like with banks, hackers are always thinking up new ways to steal data. This puts companies like Google on the defensive and being in such a position is never good. Reactive security cannot guarantee protection. Because of that, no one’s device will ever be 100% safe, unless it’s turned off. However, the average human cannot function with their phones off. 

SEE: The biggest Android mistake of 2020 | The best Android feature in 2020 | 10 Android predictions for 2021 (TechRepublic)

How to be protected

What can you do? Follow this list of advice I’ve given over the years:

  • Never install software from outside of Google Play Protect.

  • Only install the apps you must use.

  • Don’t sideload applications. Period. Ever.

  • Do not install applications without descriptions.

  • Don’t install apps with few reviews.

  • Before installing an app, check out the developer (information found in the Developer Contact section). Look them up–if you can’t find any information about them, avoid the app.

  • Before installing an app, do a Google search to see if there are any known issues.

  • Only install applications from known entities (such as Google, Amazon, Spotify, etc.).

  • If given the choice between purchasing an app or using a free app with ads, always go with the purchase option as ads are one of the more popular ways to inject malware onto a device.

  • Avoid apps with titles or descriptions in broken English. Apps on Google Play that contain malware have titles like (and these are legitimate apps which have been found malicious): Cream Trip, Crush Car, Desert Against, Find 5 Differences, Find Hidden, Iron It, Jump Jump, Money Destroyer, Rolling Scroll, Shoot Them, Shooting Run, and Sway Man.

That might seem like quite a long list of things to consider when installing applications on your Android device. Think about it this way: The more precautions you take, the less likely you will have to deal with a malicious piece of software stealing your data or holding your phone ransom. Although the list above isn’t a guarantee, it will go a long way to improve the out-of-box security experience found on Android. 

On top of that, if you approach mobile, and even desktop, security in such a way that you keep in mind it’s not a matter of if but when, you’ll be much more inclined to use a healthy dose of caution.

Hopefully 2021 will be the bearer of much good news for everyone, but as far as your Android device security is concerned, don’t think that because 2020 is now in the rearview mirror you’re safe. Without using a great deal of caution, you might well wind up the victim of malware.

Be safe, so you don’t have to be sorry.

Subscribe to TechRepublic’s How To Make Tech Work on YouTube for all the latest tech advice for business pros from Jack Wallen.

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‘Junk DNA’ plays a key role in regulating circadian clocks

Drosophila circadian rhythm

If you’ve ever had a bad case of jet lag, you know how a disruption to your body’s circadian rhythm makes it difficult to function. Molecular circadian “clocks” exist in cells throughout the body, governing more than just sleep and wake cycles — they are crucial to many aspects of human health. For more than a decade, researchers have been trying to figure out what makes them tick, in search of new insights into diseases like Alzheimer’s, cancer and diabetes.

Until now, that research has focused on what is known as clock genes, which encode proteins that drive oscillating cycles of gene expression affecting physiology and behavior. But research just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reveals the discovery of a new cog in the circadian clock — a genome-wide regulatory layer made up of small chains of non-coding nucleotides known as micro RNAS (miRNAs).

Junk DNA plays a key role in regulating circadian clocks

Drosophila ciacadian rhythm. Credit: Chhandama via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-4.0

“We’ve seen how the function of these clock genes are really important in many different diseases,” said Steve Kay, PhD, Provost Professor of neurology, biomedical engineering and quantitative computational biology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “But what we were blind to was a whole different funky kind of genes network that also is important for circadian regulation and this is the whole crazy world of what we call non-coding microRNA.”

‘Junk DNA’ proves to be a valuable tool in circadian rhythms

Formerly thought to be “junk DNA,” miRNAs are now known to affect gene expression by preventing messenger RNA from making proteins. Past research has indicated miRNAs may have a role in the function of circadian clocks but determining which of the hundreds of miRNAs in the genome might be involved remained a problem.

Kay and his team, led by Lili Zhou, a research associate in the Keck School’s Department of Neurology, turned to the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) in San Diego, which has created robots capable of high throughput experiments. Working with scientists at the institute, Zhou developed a high throughput screen for a robot to test the close to 1000 miRNAs by individually transferring them into cells the team had engineered to glow on and off, based on the cell’s 24-hour circadian clock cycle.

“The collaboration with GNF made it possible for us to conduct the first cell-based, genome-wide screening approach to systematically identify which of the hundreds of miRNAs might be the ones modulating circadian rhythms,” said Zhou.

“Much to our surprise,” said Kay, “we discovered about 110 to 120 miRNAs that do this.”

With the help of Caitlyn Miller, a biochemistry undergraduate from USC Dornsife, researchers then verified the impact on circadian rhythms by inactivating certain miRNAs identified by the screen in their line of glowing cells. Knocking out the miRNAs had the opposite effect on the cells’ circadian rhythm as adding them to the cells.

Physiologic and behavioral impacts  of miRNAs

Researchers also focused on the physiologic and behavioral impacts of miRNAs. They analyzed the behavior of mice with a particular cluster of miRNAs inactivated – miR 183/96/182 – and saw that inactivating the cluster interfered with their wheel-running behavior in the dark compared with control mice. They then examined the impact of the miRNA cluster on brain, retina and lung tissue, and found that inactivating the cluster affected circadian rhythms in a different way in each tissue type – suggesting that the way the miRNAs regulate the circadian clock is tissue specific.

Understanding the impact of miRNAs on the circadian clock in individual tissue could reveal new ways of treating or preventing specific diseases.

“In the brain we’re interested in connecting the clock to diseases like Alzheimer’s, in the lung we’re interested in connecting the clock to diseases like asthma,” said Kay. “The next step I think for us to model disease states in animals and in cells and look at how these microRNAs are functioning in those disease states.”

Source: USC

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Samsung Galaxy F62, Samsung Galaxy M02 Spotted on India Support Page; Hints at Imminent Launch

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Samsung Galaxy F62 and Samsung Galaxy M02 have leaked in the past on several occasions, and now the model numbers associated with these phones have been spotted on Samsung’s official support page in India as well. This indicates that both the phones’ launches could be inching closer and Samsung is gearing up to introduce them in the Indian market. Samsung Galaxy F62 is also reported to be called the Samsung Galaxy E62. In some markets, this phone may likely be also called the Samsung Galaxy M62.

MySmartPrice spotted two model numbers – SM-E625F/DS and SM-M022G/DS – on the Samsung India support page. The support page doesn’t offer any details about the phone, and it doesn’t even reveal the commercial name of the phone, but the SM-E625F/DS model number is largely associated with Samsung Galaxy F62, or Samsung Galaxy E62, in the past. Likewise, the SM-M022G/DS is associated with the anticipated Samsung Galaxy M02 handset.

Samsung introduced the Galaxy M02s in the Indian market earlier this month, but the Galaxy M02 still remains in the rumour mill. As per a Geekbench listing, Samsung Galaxy M02 may run on Android 10 and come with 3GB of RAM. The smartphone could also come with the Qualcomm Snapdragon SoC that is clocked at 1.8GHz.

The rumoured Samsung Galaxy F62 has also leaked in images, hinting at a square shaped module on the back. The phone has also been spotted on BIS website and an earlier report also claims that the production of the rumoured Samsung Galaxy F62 has begun at the company’s Greater Noida facility in the Delhi-NCR region. The Galaxy F62 could be one of the slimmest phones from Samsung and it is expected to launch in the first quarter of 2021. Specifications leaked in the past include Exynos 9825 SoC, have 6GB of RAM and Android 11.

Is this the end of the Samsung Galaxy Note series as we know it? We discussed this on Orbital, our weekly technology podcast, which you can subscribe to via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or RSS, download the episode, or just hit the play button below.

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The new Microsoft Edge browser will warn you if your password has been leaked online

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The new Edge 88 browser includes tough new security features, including a password generator and a tool for monitoring whether your login details have been exposed to the dark web.

Edge 88 began rolling out on 21 January.

Image: Microsoft

Microsoft Edge 88 is rolling out to users in the Stable channel alongside some new privacy-focused features, including a long-awaited credentials monitor and a built-in password generator.

The first of these features, Password Monitor, will help users stay protected against data breaches involving passwords. If Edge determines that a user’s login credentials have been exposed on the dark web (or elsewhere), it will notify them within the browser and advise them to update their passwords.

SEE: Identity theft protection policy (TechRepublic Premium)    

Password monitor was
announced by Microsoft last year,

and began rolling out yesterday (January 21) with the release of Edge 88, though it may take a week or two to reach Edge users, Microsoft said.

The latest version of Microsoft Edge, which is based on the open-source Chromium architecture, also features a built-in password generator. When users sign up to a new account on a website, Edge will automatically generate a strong password for the user, which is then automatically saved and synced across their devices.

The feature is similar to the one available on Google Chrome, and helps ensure users are using strong passwords for their accounts, while taking away the onus of having to memorize (or worse, write down) lists of complex, unique passwords for each service they sign up for. This is particularly important when creating accounts for financial services and other websites that require valuable information, Microsoft said.

Password Monitor is available for Windows 7, 8 and 10 users. Password Generator is available to the same Windows users, in addition to being available on macOS. Both features require users to be signed into Edge with a work or school account, and password sync turned on.

Microsoft has made additional privacy tweaks under the hood of Edge 88. This includes more transparent options around data collection, with users now able to dip into the permissions settings and control which sites have access to location, camera and microphone functions. Customers also have more control over how cookies are stored, specifically by allowing them to delete unnecessary third-party cookies while hanging onto ones they want to keep: say, for keeping certain settings in place for websites they visit regularly.

SEE: Top Windows 10 run commands (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Edge 88 also adds features for making browsing in private mode even more private. Users can now toggle a ‘Strict’ mode within the InPrivate browser that will block any trackers that personalize content and ads. This will prevent users from being shown personalized ads based on their browsing history, which Microsoft said would be useful when shopping for gifts or planning a surprise. This could be inadvertently ruined by an ad that gives the game away, particularly on a shared computer.

For times when even more privacy is needed, Microsoft Edge 88 features Secure DNS. This bolsters security by looking up website addresses over the more secure HTTPS protocol, ensuring data remains encrypted and protecting it from attackers who might try to modify or eavesdrop on the connection.

Users can configure a different secure DNS provider or disable it altogether within the Edge 88 privacy settings. Strict mode and Secure DNS is available on Edge 88 for Windows 7, 8 and 10 users, and on macOS. 

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