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ARE INSTANT MESSAGING APPS SAFE?

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ARE INSTANT MESSAGING APPS SAFE?

Instant messaging applications are becoming more and more popular.

And not only for personal messages: since now smart working became a common alternative, the trend is to use instant messaging apps to exchange information business related too, as an alternative to emails and phone calls.

But are these apps really safe?

All major instant messaging applications now use of the end-to-end (E2E) encryption mechanism.

With this system, messages are encrypted with a pair of keys, one public and one private, which are exchanged only between sender and recipient.

The advantage is that in this way the messages cannot be read if intercepted by a third party (a type of attack that is called “Man in the middle” or MITM).

But, while the public key is attached to the first message sent, the private key is instead tied to the device where the app is installed, making it the weak point of the system.

If the device is stolen or hacked in any way, someone else will be able to access and read the messages.

Data encryption, therefore, although very important, has limitations.

And it is not the only parameter to be evaluated to protect yourself from privacy risks.

Another aspect to take into consideration is the Metadata management. Metadata are all the data that can be collected on the user’s account and his activities and that can be considered the electronic fingerprint.

In the case of instant messaging apps, metadata collected may include the sender and recipient phone numbers, the contact list, the duration and time of the conversation, the used device, the IP address, etc …

Through the metadata, even if it is not possible to read the content of the messages, it is in any case possible to deduce useful information and profile the user and his interlocutors.

However, each app can have a different policy for managing metadata, and this is certainly a good starting point for getting useful tips on how to identify the safest apps.

Among the various instant messaging applications, WhatsApp is undoubtedly the most popular in the world.

But is it really safe?

The app has been using an extremely secure E2E encryption protocol since 2016 (the same as Signal, see below).

Furthermore, this system is active by default, without giving the user the possibility to deactivate it: an advantage from the point of view of managing privacy risks.

However, Whatsapp keeps user metadata on its servers.

Since Whatsapp is owned by Facebook, the chances for users of being profiled by both applications increase dramatically.

Ultimately, Whatsapp certainly does not prove to be the most privacy-friendly messaging app ever.

So, what are the alternatives?

Here are 3:

  1. Telegram

    Telegram is the best known alternative to Whatsapp and is often considered a safer application.

    It is certainly a feature-rich app, suitable for various uses and which also overcomes some limitations of Whatsapp, such as the number of participants in a group chat.

    But, from the point of privacy risks, things are more complex.

    Telegram is in fact an entirely cloud-based messaging app: chats and message history are saved on their servers.

    This feature, which on the one hand allows users to manage conversations from different devices, however, exposes to numerous risks as it’s easier for criminals to access data.

    As for encryption, the app offers only client-server encryption by default, i.e. from sender to server and from server to recipient.

    E2E encryption is only available in secret chats, but this option is not default and must be activated in advance.

    Therefore, if you think Telegram is a safer messaging application than Whatsapp you must change your mind and take all aspects into consideration.


  2. Signal

    Signal is a still little-known open-source instant messaging app, but it has interesting features.

    Recommended by several Cyber Security experts and even by the European Commission, Signal uses an E2E encryption protocol called “Signal Encryption Protocol“, considered among the best and subsequently adopted by Whatsapp and other instant messaging apps.

    While it needs a phone number to work, Signal has taken a respectful approach to the privacy of its users right from the start.

    In addition to the common characteristics of the messaging applications, Signal allows you to send messages that can be self-destructed and even to manage encrypted audio messages.

    Furthermore, it only stores the metadata necessary for its operation, such as phone number and profile information, not storing other metadata on their servers.

    It may not be the best known app in the world, but its uncompromising approach certainly makes Signal one of the most secure applications.


  3. Threema

    Threema is another open-source app, developed and maintained in Switzerland, and therefore subject to local data protection laws.

    Unlike previous applications, Threema is not free and is still almost unknown.

    However, it has the advantage of assigning a unique key to the user (Threema ID), so that it can be used in a totally anonymous way, without any obligation to enter a telephone number, an email or further information about the user.

    The most interesting aspect is that everything is encrypted with E2E encryption, from messages, to calls, to exchanged files.

    In addition, data, such as contact lists or group chats, are stored in a decentralized way on users’ devices, rather than on a Threema server.

    And the messages are deleted from the server after transmission.

    This ensures maximum privacy for users.

    Although it is definitely the least known application among the previous ones, as well as a not-free one, Threema by far guarantees the greatest degree of confidentiality.
In conclusion, it is important to distinguish the use we must make of instant messaging apps in order to evaluate the most correct application for our purposes.

If WhatsApp is indeed good for personal communications, with the advantage of being a widely used app, it is important to discourage its use in a professional setting and in all cases where sensitive or confidential data is processed.

Unfortunately, many cyber attacks have shown how dangerous it can be to manage sensitive information through these communication tools and it is essential to be aware of these threats in order not to expose yourself to unnecessary risks.

Good job!

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WHY CYBER SECURITY IS ONE OF THE BEST INVESTMENTS IN YOUR FUTURE

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WHY CYBER SECURITY IS ONE OF THE BEST INVESTMENTS IN YOUR FUTURE

Recently I was so lucky to have the opportunity to speak at the third edition of “99eLode“, a training organized by Fastweb Digital Academy, Cariplo Factory and iO Donna, the weekly magazine of Corriere della Sera.

Designed for 99 recent graduates waiting to understand what to do with their future, the purpose of the training was to provide information about the most requested digital skills on the market.

Among these, Cyber Security, which I described with Women For Security colleagues, taking into consideration not only the technical, but also the legal, marketing and communication aspects.

So, why is Cyber Security one of the best investments for your future?

Here are 3 good reasons.

  1. Fighting cybercrime will always be a priority

    Cybercrime caused $6 trillion of damages in 2021, the double of the amount of six years earlier.

    And it’s expected that in the next 3 years the cost for Cybercrime will exceed $10, with an exponential trend.

    Moreover, for some years now, the profits of cybercrime have exceeded those of the drug market, so that several criminal organizations are deciding to invest in this sector.

    The overall effect is that cyber defenses will face ever more numerous and aggressive enemies.

    Cyber Security will become and will remain a priority to protect individuals, organizations and also nations.


  2. There is a great shortage of jobs in the Cyber Security field

    From 2013 to 2021 we have seen a growth of 350% in Cyber Security jobs, a trend never seen before.

    There are currently 3.5 million cybersecurity job vacancies globally, 400,000 in Europe alone.

    In 2014, vacancies globally were “only” 1 million.

    Basically, there is no unemployment for those who decide to work in the Cyber Security sector (and it has been like that since 2011!)


  3. Not only Cyber Security “technicians” are needed

    Certainly, the technical jobs of Cyber Security are important.

    Penetration Testers, Malware Analyst, Vulnerability Researchers and many others are key roles in this industry.

    But they are not the only needed functions.

    Important roles equally must be able to manage the legal issues, privacy, regulatory compliance, the governance of cyber security.

    As well as project management, marketing, communication, pre and post-sales aspects, training, etc…
Cyber Security, ultimately, does not only concern those with technical skills but those who are able to commit themselves with their specific skills and abilities to protect companies, organizations and institutions from the threats and risks of the cyber world in constant increase.

Good job!

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FIVE RULES FOR BEING SAFER ON INTERNET

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FIVE RULES FOR BEING SAFER ON INTERNET

Safer Internet Day (SID) is celebrated on February 8th, an initiative created by the European Commission to promote safer and more responsible use of technology.

Celebrated in 200 countries around the world since 2004, Safer Internet Day invites us to provide a safer digital environment, especially for young people.

Internet world offers enormous opportunities, possibilities for learning and for acquiring new knowledge, but it also carries several risks.

Thanks to initiatives such as SID it is possible to raise awareness of risks and threats, but at the same time take to carry on concrete actions in order to protect users.

So, let’s see 5 rules to be safer on the Internet.

1) Systems and applications:
Update systems and applications you use and keep them constantly updated.
This rule applies to both PCs and mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.).
Download and install applications only from official websites or app stores and be suspicious of unofficial stores: the risk it to install malware.

2) Account and identity:
Protect your accounts with a strong and enough complex password (over 8 characters, with upper and lower case, numbers and special characters).
Do not use the same password for all accounts, especially for emails and logins to important applications.
Use a password manager to remember all the passwords and protect the access with a master password (the only one you’ll need to remember by heart!)

3) Email and SMS:
Be wary of suspicious emails and SMS, from senders you don’t know or who refer to transactions and activities that don’t concern you.
Do not fall into the trap of Phishing and avoid clicking on suspicious links or opening attachments that could be harmful.

4) Antivirus and antimalware:
Install antivirus and antimalware on the devices you use.
Again, this rule applies to PCs but also to mobile devices (smartphones, tablets, etc.).
Install the antivirus on all devices you use to browse the Internet and keep it up to date.

5) Caution and security
Beware of websites where you can download free software and content: the risk of running into malware is very high.
Do not share credentials, passwords or login information with anyone.
Do not leave PCs and smartphones unattended.

Happy Safe Internet!

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