Police in Dubai have issued a warning to VPN users in the Emirate regarding bogus VPN apps which appear to be the real thing.
It seems that hackers have succeeded in uploading fake versions of VPN apps to local app stores. When downloaded, these apps are inseparable from the real thing, but allow the hackers operating them to steal users personal data.
It is interesting to see the Dubai police taking steps to protect the interest of VPN users at all. VPN use is actively discouraged in the Emirate, where there is a considerable amount of online censorship. In particular, Dubai has moved to block access to VOIP communication services to protect the monopoly of the state telecoms company.
But using a VPN still remains legal in Dubai, although using one to access censored content or other illegal material is a criminal offence.
The Dubai Police is now combing local app stores to identify suspicious apps and remove them. However, from the statements they have issued it seems that this is an ongoing process, yet they have not named the VPNs suspected of having had bogus apps created.
‘Users need to be careful’
The statement issued by Colonel Salim bin Salmen, Deputy Director of Cyber-Crimes Department, to the local 7 Days website, is phrased in an interesting way. He begins by highlighting the fact that many people do use VPNs for activities deemed illegal in Dubai.
He then goes on to warn users to be careful saying they have “noticed many applications can hack to your system and steal your personal data like videos and pictures. Then that could be used to blackmail the person.”
“People must be careful when they use VPN,” he concludes.
Put in a certain context, the statement could almost be read as a threat intended to put users in Dubai off using VPNs at all. The lack of detail about which VPNs are thought to have been copied also points to this and some commentators have been quick to raise the question.
Certainly, the Cyber-Crimes Department has an interest in trying to cut VPN use in the country, but whether they would risk going about this in such a crude manner is debatable. And of course, they do have a broader interest to protect online users who are not breaking the law.
Very Real Risk
Certainly, if fake VPN apps are on the market in Dubai, this does prevent a very real risk to the personal data of users, so it is advisable for users there to be diligent whether they believe the story or not.
Not only will there be a chance of the loss of private communications, personal photos and documents, and online banking and financial details, but should you be visiting sites which are censored in Dubai, this information will not be secure and you could run the risk of criminal charges or blackmail.
If you are concerned about the privacy and security of your data, we would recommend that you ensure you only use a top quality and legitimate VPN provider like IPVanish or ExpressVPN.
Be sure to download any apps or software directly from them or via links from their official website and if you still have doubts, don’t hesitate to contact their excellent technical support teams for assistance.
Providers like these are used by millions around the world, including Dubai, and fake apps created by hackers should certainly not deter users from taking advantage of their great privacy and security provisions.