Facebook Deploying Encrypted, Self-Destructing Messages

Today's topics include Facebook's latest Messenger feature that will allow for "secret conversations," Apple's release of the iOS 10 beta for public testing, the approval of the Privacy Shield agreement by the European Union, and the new Patchwork advanced persistent threat that is targeting thousands of Southeast Asian organizations.

Messaging apps have become a major online communication platform, a trend Facebook joined two years ago when it bought WhatsApp Messenger for $19 billion. While the WhatsApp branding is fading, the functionality continues to evolve at a high rate.

Like other messaging apps, Facebook's Messenger is cross-platform and allows users to exchange messages without paying for SMS services as they might on a phone. This includes video, image and audio messages as well.

Messenger's newest features include a "secret conversations" option that will also allow users to place a self-destruct timer on messages. The specified messages will be so encrypted that even highly credentialed employees at Facebook won't be able to snoop.

While the final version of Apple's iOS 10 mobile operating system won't debut until fall, the beta is now available for the public to test. The iOS 10 beta was launched as a part of the company's public beta program, which lets users test-drive upcoming software releases and provide input.

Any Apple hardware user with a valid Apple ID can participate in the Beta free of charge. However, since the software isn't a final release, Apple recommends users install the beta of iOS 10 only on noncritical devices and remember to back up devices before beginning installation.

Also released was the public beta version of macOS Sierra, Apple's upcoming operating system for its Mac computers.

European Union member states approved the final version of the Privacy Shield agreement between the United States and the EU on July 8. This marks the final step before the agreement is formally adopted by the European Commission, expected this week.

The Privacy Shield, which replaces the former Safe Harbor agreement, aims to protect the privacy of EU citizens as potentially personal data flows between the EU and the United States and while that data is stored in the United States.

The new agreement follows on the realization, via documents leaked by former National Security Agency analyst Edward Snowden that the Safe Harbor agreement was frequently ignored. The new Privacy Shield aims to correct this.

Security firm Cymmetria discovered a new advanced persistent threat that it has dubbed Patchwork. The name alludes to the fact that the APT code has been copied and pasted from a variety of other known threats and online forums.

The threat has been active since December 2015, according to Cymmetria, and has affected 2,500 organizations and government agencies in Southeast Asia.

The attackers designed a targeted spear-phishing email with an attached PowerPoint file. The APT then infects in two stages: First, the attackers seek any valuable information, then they deploy additional malware to gain more access.

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