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March 2nd, 2015

Avast study exposes global Wi-Fi browsing activity

The use of open, unprotected Wi-Fi networks has become increasingly popular across the globe. Whether you’re traveling around a new city and rely on public Wi-Fi networks to get around or you’re at your favorite coffee shop and connect to its Wi-Fi, you’re left in a vulnerable situation when it comes to protecting your data. Just as you lock the door of your house when you leave, you should also use a security app if using public Wi-Fi.

Couple taking selfie

Using unsecured Wi-Fi can easily expose photos and other personal information to hackers.


Avast’s hack experiment examines browsing habits of people across the globe

The Avast team recently undertook a global hacking experiment, where our mobile security experts traveled to cities in the United States, Europe, and Asia to observe the public Wi-Fi activity in nine major metropolitan areas. Our experiment revealed that most mobile users aren’t taking adequate steps to protect their data and privacy from cybercriminals. In the U.S., the Avast mobile experts visited Chicago, New York, and San Francisco; in Europe, they visited Barcelona, Berlin, and London; and in Asia, they traveled to Hong Kong, Seoul, and Taipei. Each of our experts was equipped with a laptop and a Wi-Fi adapter with the ability to monitor the Wi-Fi traffic in the area. For this purpose, we developed a proprietary app, monitoring the wireless traffic at 2.4 GHz frequency. It’s important to mention that there are commercial Wi-Fi monitoring apps like this available in the market that are easy-to-use, and available for free.

wifi experiment Bundestag

In front of the German Bundestag, Berlin: On public Wi-Fi, log in details can easily be monitored.

The study revealed that users in Asia are the most prone to attacks. Users in San Francisco and Barcelona were most likely to take steps to protect their browsing, and users in Europe were also conscious about using secure connections. While mobile users in Asia were most likely to join open networks, Europeans and Americans were slightly less so; in Seoul, 99 out of 100 users joined unsecured networks, compared with just 80 out of 100 in Barcelona.

1)      Seoul: 99 out of 100

2)      Hong Kong: 98 out of 100

3)      Taipei: 97 out of 100

4)      Chicago: 96 out of 100

5)      New York: 91 out of 100

6)      Berlin: 88 out of 100

7)      London: 83 out of 100

8)      Barcelona: 80 out of 100

9)      San Francisco: 80 out of 100

Our experiment shed light on the fact that a significant portion of mobile users browse primarily on unsecured HTTP sites.  Ninety-seven percent of users in Asia connect to open, unprotected Wi-Fi networks. Seven out of ten password-protected routers use weak encryption methods, making it simple for them to be hacked. Nearly one half of the web traffic in Asia takes place on unprotected HTTP sites, compared with one third U.S. traffic and roughly one quarter of European traffic. This can most likely be attributed to the fact that there are more websites in Europe and the U.S. that use the HTTPS protocol than in Asia.

So, how much of your browsing activity can actually be monitored?

Because HTTP traffic is unprotected, our team was able to view all of the users’ browsing activity, including domain and page history, searches, personal log in information, videos, emails, and comments.  Read more…

July 8th, 2014

Tens of thousands of Americans sell themselves online every day

The Internet has become a virtual flea market, with online consumer-to-consumer sites like Amazon, eBay, and Craigslist selling millions of products every day. Used smartphones are a popular sales item on eBay – more than 80,000 people list their phones for sale each day. It seems like a smart way to make some extra money, but AVAST has found out that many fail to protect their identity in the process. 

AVAST recovers an abundance of personal data from used smartphones 

Most sellers delete all of their personal data prior to selling their used devices… or so they think. We purchased 20 used Android phones off eBay and used simple and easily available recovery software to restore deleted files. The amount of data we were able to retrieve was astonishing and proves that simply deleting is not enough.

Our analysts found the following:

  • More than 40,000 stored photosUsed Smartphones for Sale
  • More than 1,500 family photos of children
  • More than 750 photos of women in various stages of undress
  • More than 250 selfies of what appear to be the previous owner’s manhood
  • More than 1,000 Google searches
  • More than 750 emails and text messages
  • More than 250 contact names and email addresses
  • Four previous owners’ identities
  • One completed loan application

One phone even had a competitor’s security software installed, but unfortunately it did not help the former owner as it revealed the most personal information out of all the phones we analyzed. 

No one cares about my old photos, messages and Google searches, right?

Wrong! As the old saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words. Now add private Facebook messages that include geo-location, Google searches for open job positions in a specific field, media files, and phone contacts. Put all of these pieces together to complete the puzzle and you have a clear picture of who the former smartphone owner was. Stalkers, enemies, and thieves can abuse personal data to stalk, blackmail and steal people’s identities. They can use this information to watch people’s every move, exploit their strange fetishes, open credit cards in their name, or even continue what they started by further selling their personal information online. 

How to permanently delete and overwrite data from your Android phone 

Deleting files from your Android phone before selling it or giving it away is not enough. You need to overwrite your files, making them irretrievable. To do so, install avast! Anti-Theft from the Google Play Store for free. Once you have the app installed, turn on the “thorough wipe” feature within the app. You will then need to create a my.avast account to connect to the phone (this allows users to remotely wipe their phones in theft cases as well). The final step is to wipe the phone clean, which will delete and overwrite all of your personal data. 

AVAST Used Smartphone Infographic

Read about our investigation:

Android Forensics, Part 1: How we recovered (supposedly) erased data

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