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Hong Kong Police launch free online antivirus tools for smart devices

In a recent report, it was noted that the Hong Kong Police force have launched a free online antivirus app for smart devices that will ensure greater protection against cyberattacks that have been on the rise in Hong Kong lately.

Hong Kong users can now scan and remove viruses on their smart devices using the free online tools under a joint campaign between police and cybersecurity companies. The initiative was created in an effort to stem a surge of nearly 90 per cent in financial losses from hacking cases. Victims were swindled out of HK$852 million in the first half of the year.

Between January and June 2018, police recorded 527 cases of computer system intrusions, including on smart devices, compared with 389 cases in the same period in 2017, totalling HK$452 million in losses.

According to sources, 90 per cent of cases resulting in a financial loss this year also involved international email scammers. The hackers first hacked into user accounts to understand the business transactions between the victims and clients. They then used fictitious emails to induce their targets into making remittances to local or overseas bank accounts.

The force’s Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau first launched the campaign in June 2017 and provided antivirus tools to computer users on its website.The bureau said people had used the tools to remove more than 435,000 botnet-related pieces of software on their computers. The bureau then extended the campaign to smart devices amid looming hacking threats – experts estimated that about 1.1 million smart devices in Hong Kong were hacked last year.

A botnet is a collection of devices connected to the internet which are infected with malicious programmes and can be controlled as a whole without user knowledge.

Frank Law Yuet-wing, a senior superintendent from the bureau used the analogy of a home to emphasise the importance of digital protection. He stated that almost everyone locks their doors when they leave home, some even install CCTV camera. Mr Law argued that computers and smart devices need just as much vigilant protection, and added that there is an imperative need to raise such security awareness.

Another officer, Superintendent Alice Tsang Nga-sze, advised users not to install applications from untrustworthy sources, or click on suspicious hyperlinks and dubious emails, as hackers could encrypt the smart devices by ransomware and control the devices to launch cyberattacks. Hackers can get access to users’ personal data, including contacts, messages, and bank account information for illegal use.

Ms Tsang added that users should also be alert to what authorisations they have given to an application. “It is understandable that a map application needs to use your location. But does a game application need your location too?”, she asked.

Ms Tsang particularly warned members of the public about a form of cyberattack which hacks into users’ routers and sends out bogus messages to lure users into downloading a malware.This is followed by the hackers using the malware to steal personal data from devices. Ms Tsang informed reporters that such attacks started in Europe and spread to Asia.

She also urged users to seek help from IT professionals if their devices appeared to have unusually fast battery consumption, become heated, or display unknown applications or transactions, as these might be signs of hacking activity.

Figures from the Census and Statistics Department showed there were more than 5.68 million users – aged 10 or above – with smart devices in Hong Kong last year. Half of the elderly aged 65 or above also owned a smartphone.

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