The Danger of Counterfeits

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Apple Watch knock offs on sale almost immediately after Apple’s press conference and very real looking fake Xiaomi smartphones feature in-built malware. What are the dangers of buying cheap or counterfeit tech?


It’s been going on for years. Anyone who’s stumbled into less savoury parts of the Internet or turned down the wrong alley in London knows that knock-off tech is everywhere.

Larger websites like eBay or Amazon are quick to clamp down on cheap knock-off product but not everyone has a reputation to maintain.

A few weeks ago news emerged that Xaiomi, fast growing Chinese smartphone company, released a phone that had built-in malware. It later turned out to be a very convincing forgery packed with dodgy software.

A little more recently Apple held their press conference revealing the Apple Watch in full, amongst other things. Meanwhile on Taobao, China’s most popular online shopping service, almost identical off-brand watches began appearing for a fraction of the, only recently announced, price.


“Trust of the software…”


Mark James, ESET security specialist, always talks about the trust issue. He uses it in reference to phishing, drive-by-downloads, really any kind of security issue has a trust element.

“We always tell people to watch what they install, don’t follow links, be mindful of clicking links in emails and being directed to dodgy websites.

“When malware is pre-installed the end user will have an immediate trust of the software on that machine as its “out of the factory” and therefore seemingly safe. Most users would not ever question what’s installed on their default hardware.

“The other benefit is embedding it into the everyday tools we use our devices for. The cost of mainstream devices like Samsung S5 or iPhone 6 are huge, when a like for like device is offered at a third of the cost many people will take you up on that offer, we all like to save a few pounds.”

“Embedding into the everyday tools” is exactly what happened with Xiaomi. The dodgy device had pre-installed cracked version of common apps used to benchmark and check the authenticity of a device, therefore it appeared to be authentic to all but the most trained eye.


“Updates and fixes…”


Marks points out that even if Malware isn’t installed on the device by default you can still be vulnerable due to general build quality and policy.

“Quite often they use substandard or cheap components; either does not offer or cannot support a warranty and will cut corners with the operating system itself.”

The knock-off Apple Watches for example apparently us Android as an OS rather than iOS: presumably due to Androids open nature compared to iOS, although the UI is remarkably similar to that of Apple’s.

“The long term problems with this are timely updates or even ever getting an update, especially if it’s a security fix. The main manufacturers will offer updates and fixes as soon as they are able to keep up their good name.

“Knockoffs or dodgy suppliers don’t care about their reputation so will want to shift as many dodgy units as they can.”


“If it looks too good to be true…”


“The old one is my favourite – if it looks too good to be true, it is!

“Usually with technology you only get what you pay for. If you’re paying a third of the cost you might be getting a good camera, a fast processor and a decent amount of ram but to deliver that they will compromise on good quality fully tested components.”

The knock-off Apple Watches are roughly a tenth of the price they are due to launch at in China. There’s no way you are going to get the kind of after-care and warranty you would with Apple.

“With any product the warranty is factored into the cost, look out for badly designed cases, sharp or rough edges, similar logos and also bear in mind that the chargers themselves may be sub-standard and could even be a fire hazard.”

Beware those fakes!


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Have you ever bought a knock-off piece of tech? Did you regret it?