free

Free – good or bad?

It’s always nice to get something for free. Or is it? There are really some free lunches on the net. But what appears to be free can have a hidden price, which often is paid by other means than money.

Internet did for a long time lack payment models and everything on the net was truly free. This was fine on a net that was an academic tool and playground for enthusiasts. Our Internet of today is totally different, and to a large extent business driven. But the culture of getting stuff for free on the net is deeply rooted. People are used to free stuff, or are hesitant to use payment on the net in fear of fraud. This has created a lot of new business models based on free products and services. Either genuinely free or with a hidden compensation. One of the important skills for today’s cybercitizens is to recognize these business models and understand the hidden risks and compensations. Read on to learn how.

Before you take the bait you should always ask yourself: Why is this thing offered for free? That’s the key questions as the vendor’s motives dictate if the product or service is safe to use. First look for info about who made the product and why. Then try to place it in one of the categories below. Now it will be a lot easier to make an educated guess about how safe it is.

Ad-financed

A very common way to provide free products or services. Ads are showed to you and the vendor gets money from the advertisers. Be careful with ad-ware your children are using. You have no control over the ads and some content may be unsuitable. Otherwise these are mostly legit if you don’t find the ads too annoying.

User profiling

“If you don’t pay for the product, then you ARE the product.” This is taking ad-ware to the next level. Big data companies like Facebook and Google offer their services for free, but create extensive profiles over their users and utilize them for marketing purposes. This is a privacy problem as you have no control over what data they collect and how it is (mis)used. Intelligence agencies are on top of that also eager to tap into your data. If Facebook knows something about you, then NSA knows too. The problem here is that it is very hard to know what price you really pay for the “free” service. You should consider if the privacy risk is worth taking for the value you get in return.

Hobby and ideological

Many create programs and web services for fun. Giving it away and seeing that people really use it is part of the joy. Some may also have ideological motives, like fighting corporate dominance, guarding peoples’ privacy or defeating net espionage. Products in this category are genuinely free and there’s no hidden compensation. The Firefox browser is an excellent example. The Linux operating system is another.

This “business model” is safe for the customer, but the products and services may not always be the safest choice technically. Providing safe software is a tough task and requires constant maintenance. Hobbyists are not always professional enough for this. In this category you will find a wide range of products with technical security ranging from excellent to very poor. It’s also futile to expect good support services in this category, unless the product has a well-working user forum that provides peer-support.

Donation financed, “begware”

This is a variant of the previous class. Some providers of free software ask for donations openly. This is like a product with a voluntary payment. A lot of people will use the product for free, but some will contribute a couple of bucks to cover the vendor’s expenses. Wikipedia is a good example. BTW, have you ever donated to them? I have and I think it’s very well spent money. The value I get in return is far greater.

Taxpayers’ money

Some free services are provided with tax-payers’ money. These are typically OK to use. Quality might vary tough, as the public sector often lacks the culture of customer service and competitiveness.

Upselling or service fees

Many vendors provide a basic product or service for free, and more functionality or capacity for a price. This is a nice way to let customers try it out and decide later if they need the paid version. Sometimes the product is entirely free and the business model is based on selling support services for it. There’s nothing wrong with this business model and the products are usually OK if the vendor is trustworthy. younited from F-Secure is a good example, like most other cloud services.

Bundles

Getting something for “free” when buying something else is a common marketing trick. It’s not really a free product, the pricing scheme is just set up to hide its true cost. A common example is receiving a “free” mobile phone or 4G-dongle when signing up for a 2-year subscription. Hardware prices are declining and many people have a misconception that these bundled items are worth more than they really are.

Pirated content

Some content is offered to you free of charge and with no strings attached, but the distributor lacks the right to distribute it. Distributing stuff without permission is illegal practically everywhere, but your status as receiver is not as clear. Whether it is a crime to download the stuff depends on your country’s legislation. Also remember that the common peer-to-peer sharing networks, like BitTorrent, both download and share at once. It’s also common to distribute malware masqueraded as pirated software. The safest way is to look for the content’s original vendor or distribution point, and download it from there. Then you will learn if it really is free, and lose the malware as an extra bonus.

Scams and malware

Malware and scams are often masqueraded as free offerings. Be extremely careful if you are tempted to sign up for anything that sends you “free” information as text messages. Your mobile phone number is a payment method and scammers can charge you for bogus messages sent to your mobile. It can be next to impossible to get them cleaned off the bill. What you think is a handy utility program may also turn out to be malicious software. If you can’t figure out why the tool is free, the real reason may be to plant malware in your computer or mobile device.

Let’s finish with a checklist for people considering using a free service or product:

  1. Find out who made it. Check if the vendor declares openly why the product is free.
  2. Check if the vendor offers paid alternatives to the free version and how they differ.
  3. Try to figure out what category the free offering belongs to.
  4. Is the vendor trustworthy? You shouldn’t use software from untrusted sources even if it’s free.
  5. Finally consider if the free offering really is what you want. Sometimes it’s a great alternative to expensive products, sometimes you pay a high hidden price just to save a couple of bucks. And sometimes the free alternatives just aren’t up to the task and you would be better off with a professionally made product. Consider if it really is smart to save a couple of dollars and insert potentially unreliable code in the system with all your irreplaceable content?
  6. If you still are uncertain, search for user opinions on the net. The true free gems, like Firefox and Linux, have huge user bases and you can find a lot of info about them. Be careful if you have problems finding independent opinions about a free product you consider.

Safe surfing,
Micke

More posts from this topic

Screen Shot 2014-09-20 at 9.12.30 AM

GameOver ZeuS: The Kind of Game You Don’t Want On Your Computer

Unlike Team Fortress 2 or Doom, two of the most popular PC games of all time, GameOver ZeuS is not a game you can buy online or would willingly download on to your computer. What is GameOver ZeuS? While we’ve talked about banking Trojans before, none have been as detrimental to users as the GameOver ZeuS or GOZ Trojan, which initially began infecting users in 2012. Gameover ZeuS is designed to capture banking credentials from infected computers, and make wire transfers to criminal accounts overseas. It was allegedly authored by Russian hacker Evgeniy Bogachev, who then implanted it on computers all around the world; building a network of infected machines - or bots - that his crime syndicate could control from anywhere. It’s predominately spread through spam e-mail or phishing messages. So far, it’s been estimated to scam people out of hundreds of millions of dollars and it’s only getting worse. It doesn’t stop there; Gameover ZeuS can also be modified by hackers to load different kinds of Trojans on to it. One such Trojan is a ransomware called CryptoLocker, which is a devastating malware that locks a user’s most precious files by encrypting all the files until he or she pays the hacker a ransom. In June 2014, the FBI, Europol, and the UK’s National Crime Agency announced they had been working closely with various security firms and academic researchers around the world and took action under a program dubbed “Operation Trovar.” This initiative temporarily disrupted the system that was spreading the Trojan and infecting computers, allowing a temporary pause in additional computers from being infected. However, computers that were already infected remained at risk, as they were still compromised. What’s next? The disruption of the GameOver ZeuS botnet was a great success in many ways, but it’s not over. Our security advisor, Sean Sullivan, worries that this temporary disruption was actually more dangerous than completely taking it down. “Without arresting Bogachev, Gameover ZeuS is still a huge threat and likely to evolve to become more dangerous. The hackers can just as easily program a future version of the Trojan to initiate a “self-destruct” order (like destroy every file on a computer) if the ransom isn’t paid, or if authorities try to intervene.” What can we do to protect our digital freedom? Beware of malicious spam and phishing attempts — don’t open any attachments within emails unless you are specifically expecting something. Check email attachments carefully, and make sure you don’t open any files that automatically launch, which frequently end in .exe Have an Internet security solution in place and keep it up to date Keep your Windows operating system and your Internet browser plugins updated Back up all of your personal files regularly Also, check your machines to be sure you do not carry the Gameover ZeuS Trojan. For more information on how this powerful Trojan works and how it is spread, check out this this video. [protected-iframe id="888198d18fd45eae52e6400a39fb4437-10874323-9129869" info="//www.youtube-nocookie.com/v/JhiPDbTIsqw?hl=en_US&version=3&rel=0" width="640" height="360"] Have more questions? Ask us here on the blog.  

Sep 20, 2014
screen-shot-2014-09-18-at-10-35-00-am

Freedome now provides one-button VPN protection for iOS 8 — and Asia

This has been a huge week for Freedome. First we added virtual locations in Hong Kong and Singapore. Then the app became available across Asia. Now we're fully iOS 8-compatible on day one. You could use Freedome to protect your private data and choose from 12 different virtual locations on iOS 7. But it could be a hassle, requiring you to switch profiles or possibly lose connection. On iOS 8, your Freedome VPN connects and stays connected. That's it. How does it work? This video walks you through the process of pressing one button and getting on with your life. This simplicity is now available to a huge percentage of the world's population that hasn't had a chance to try out Freedome for free. “As hundreds of millions of users in Asia are hopping online through their broadband wireless and hundreds of Wi-Fi hotspots covering cafes to airports, mobile users are seeking ways to provide more privacy to their online surfing habits, Freedome will be the answer to this," our Security Advisor Su Gim Goh said. Beyond protecting your data when you're connecting on unsecured networks, Freedome offers anti-tracking protection that cloaks your data from the sites you choose to use. “Users in Asia today demand their rights to keeping their data private," he said. "Most important of all, with F-Secure’s Freedome, you're not leaving digital footprints on websites like online stores and social media sites, making them more untrackable to the aggressive advertising and profiling services on the Internet in this region."

Sep 18, 2014
BY Jason
Unbenannt-1

16 ways SAFE protects your devices, your family and you

In the early twenty-first century, when hackers were mostly pranksters, having security software on your PC was mostly about saving you some trouble. In 2014, international crime syndicates regularly co-opt millions of computers in order to systematically steal banking information, take identities and hold files for ransom, security isn't about convenience. It's about giving our families the freedom to live our lives online with out the threat of strangers invading our lives, hijacking our time and money. An anti-virus on one PC is a good step. But who just uses one PC now? Many of us three different devices before breakfast. That's why we created F-Secure SAFE -- it's built to protect all the devices and all of the people in your family. The latest update of SAFE is designed to make it easier to install on infected computers for a smoother overall experience. It also gives your tools to keep your devices and family safe wherever they go. Since SAFE is such a dramatic expansion of what our traditional F-Secure Internet Security does we wanted to cover 16 ways it protects you, your family and your devices. And to celebrate the new SAFE launch, we're giving away one SAFE hoodie and a free year of SAFE on our Facebook page every day for 16 days beginning on September 16. Please read the rules and enter now. Here's how SAFE protects you, your devices and your family: PCs and laptops 1. Protection against ransomware Thanks to browsing protection, F-Secure SAFE protects you against malicious software that impersonates authorities, such as Interpol or the FBI, and may block your computer, demanding ransom for unblocking it and preventing you from accessing your files until you pay. Thanks to F-Secure SAFE, all known versions of this insidious type of malware can't get on your computer. 2. Protect your home computer in the same way your office computer is protected Your office computer is protected by software that safeguards it against viruses and protects corporate data against theft by criminals. SAFE gives you the same options on your home computer. 3. Limit the time your children spend on the Internet. If you think that your children may spend too much time browsing the internet or playing online games, SAFE will let you decide for how many hours they are allowed to do it every day. You can easily define in which hours exactly they connect to the Internet. If they try to go online during unapproved times, the computer will not connect to the Internet. 4. Online banking protection your bank knows you need Do you know that most banks recommend in terms of security is using paid anti-virus software when banking online? SAFE ensures you meet these recommendations. 5. Safeguard your memories  F-Secure Safe protects the photos and videos of your children or grandchildren against falling into the wrong hands. The built-in anti-virus application and protection against as-yet-unknown threats ensure that all of the memories collected on your computer are fully protected. Your files will never be destroyed, encoded to demand payment for decoding them, or intercepted in order to be published or to gain profit from distributing them. 6. Protect your children against adult content Define which sort of content can be accessed by your children, whether you're monitoring them or not. 7. Shop online without worry Thanks to protection against spyware and browsing protection, your credit card number is invisible to criminals. Now you can relax when shopping online, booking hotels or buying air tickets. Tablets 1. Control which apps your kids can install Keep games that involve virtual violence, sex or gambling off your child's device with a simple setting. 2. Decide which sites your child can visit  Even if they use tablets in their rooms, you can be sure that they visit no websites inappropriate for their age. 3. Protect your device against malware with browsing protection. Protect yourself from phishing scams, ransomware and malicious apps that could be triggered by visiting the wrong site. 4. Keep login data and online banking passwords secure SAFE protects your tablet against spyware that steals your bank login data. Smartphones 1. Find your missing phone. Locate your lost phone and make sure no one can access your data should your device be stolen. 2. Find your child Check the location of your child’s phone from our simple web portal. 3. Avoid surprising charges Are you concerned that your children may install games than require additional payments? F-Secure Safe lets you control which software is installed on their phones. 4. Block calls and text messages from unwanted numbers Start your own "Do not call" list with this feature that allows you decide who has access to you through your phone. 5. Keep your phone malware free More than 99 percent of all mobile malware targets Android, which is the second most targeted platform in the world behind Windows. With SAFE, you have protection from increasingly complex ransomware and trojans designed to get inside your phone then your wallet. You can try F-Secure SAFE for free now. Cheers, Sandra

Sep 15, 2014