Samsung working closely with Google, Microsoft to build measures to best prevent state-level cyberattacks | Exclusive

‘We do recognise that there are a large number of state-level cyberattacks that are being launched.’

Samsung working closely with Google, Microsoft to build measures to best prevent state-level cyberattacks | Exclusive
At the heart of all of Samsung’s privacy and security efforts lies “Knox". (Photo credit: Reuters)

Samsung is working closely with Google and Microsoft to develop measures to best prevent state-level cyberattacks, a senior executive at the company said on Friday. The confirmation comes just days after Apple announced Lockdown Mode, a new feature for iPhone, iPad, and Mac designed to protect high-risk users from sophisticated spyware attacks.

“We do recognise that there are a large number of state-level cyberattacks that are being launched,” Dr. Seungwon Shin, Vice President of Samsung Electronics and Head of Security at the company’s Mobile Communications Division said during a virtual round-table with select media. “We are cooperating closely with Google and Microsoft to develop measures to best prevent such cyberattacks,” he added.

Samsung offers multiple layers of protection across its Galaxy devices spanning both hardware as well as applications. All data is encrypted by a user-generated key that “no other vendor including Samsung can decrypt.” Users, in addition, can keep sensitive information in the device from prying eyes through dedicated work and personal profiles and, also, lock them behind a “secure folder”. Real-time monitoring systems can meanwhile detect “any possible abnormal behavior” on these devices.

At the heart of all of Samsung’s privacy and security efforts lies “Knox”, an isolated, hardware-based secure environment, that holds all of the users’ sensitive information including PIN and password, in one place. It offers secure Wi-Fi and secure DNS, and by default, uses domains provided by trusted DNS providers such as Google and “this allows us to prevent any potential phishing attacks.” 

Over the course of COVID, the company has seen a rise in the number of banking Trojans, in particular.

“We cannot collect the data without the users’ consent, but as long as they use the basic features that are available on our phones and also, for example, use a secure DNS domain provided by trusted providers, we will be able to prevent any [phishing] attacks,” Dr. Shin said, adding for “those who bypass this, there is no way for us to identify that because we cannot collect user data for the reasons of user privacy.”

Highly sophisticated spyware tools, as it’s being widely documented, can break into devices without requiring the victim to click on anything, though. Governments have allegedly used these tools to keep tabs on human rights activists, journalists, and opposition leaders. Apple users recently faced a plethora of security breaches, mostly attributed to the Israel-based NSO Group and its Pegasus spyware.

Apple’s announcement of the Lockdown Mode feature can be considered as an acknowledgement that it failed to shield its products like iPhone—generally seen as more secure than Android counterparts— against intrusions from state-backed hackers. The said feature will allow users to effectively cordon off parts of their iPhone, iPad, and Mac from attacks, including unsolicited FaceTime calls and email attachments with the flick of a button. Spyware makers would naturally try to find ways of circumventing the Lockdown Mode and Apple would pay up to $2 million to researchers who report vulnerabilities in the feature in a bid to stay a step ahead.

It isn’t immediately clear if Samsung is working on a dedicated switch –like Lockdown—or something more extensive and elaborate to secure users’ data.

On the subject of a passwordless sign-in future and the company’s ongoing work with the FIDO alliance, Dr. Shin said, “We announced our framework to support the passkey in May and we are doing our best to become an early adopter. We are looking to introduce the latest FIDO technologies in our devices as early as possible because one of the core values of Samsung is to democratise innovation and [only] by democratising innovation and new technologies, we can push the industry forward.”

Created by FIDO and the World Wide Web Consortium, the new FIDO standard aims to allow apps and websites to have a single, secure, and unified login across different devices, even platforms like Windows, macOS, and Chrome OS. The idea behind the FIDO Standard is that users will make use of the same actions— fingerprint or face, or a device PIN— they use multiple times each day to, also, log into apps and websites. Since all this data resides locally on device, already, it is less likely to be hacked. Even one-time passcodes sent over SMS can be spoofed.

Samsung recently introduced it inside its home-grown Internet Browser app and it is now “working closely [with FIDO] on various means of biometric authenticators to replace the password.” Apple, Google, and Microsoft have also openly embraced the new standard.

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