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Security & privacy

Google, Microsoft spam smartphones with notifications – how to manage yours

Ever get tired of annoying notifications clogging up your smartphone? These days, it seems like many apps are more intrusive than ever — and who has the time to manage alerts when new ones keep cropping up?

It’s not just smartphones, either. Windows PCs are plenty vulnerable to annoying notifications. Thankfully, there are settings you can adjust to work around this. Tap or click here to see how to manage notifications in Windows 10.

But if you have an Android device, you may have noticed your notifications acting a little more annoying than usual recently. Millions of users experienced bizarre alerts in Microsoft Teams and Google Chat that looked less like system alerts and more like tweets from a teenager. Is there a hacker in your phone? Thankfully not, but here’s what you need to know.

Ghost in the machine

Android users across the country received several rude awakenings over the last week thanks to a series of annoying spam notifications that came seemingly out of nowhere. These notifications, unlike normal system alerts, featured childishly irreverent text that referenced the fact that they were “tests.” Exactly what was being tested, and by whom, is unknown.

Source: Sophos Labs

The first batch of these spam notifications appeared on Android devices running Google Chat — a collaborative app included in Google’s G Suite software and used by businesses around the country. But soon, the same issue started affecting G Suite’s biggest competitor: Microsoft Office 365.

Tap or click here to see how these two productivity suites stack up against one another.

What could be causing these apps to wig out with strange notifications like this? Did someone manage to hack both Google and Microsoft? Or is it just your phone?

Well, researchers from Sophos Labs have some ideas about what is happening. According to a new report from the security firm, a two-week-old article published by an independent security researcher may have sparked the sudden flood of spam.

In this article, an anonymous researcher calling himself “Abss” highlighted an issue endemic to Android’s notification system. He argued that with a stolen software key, a hacker could easily hijack the notification system and spam every single user of that app with alerts unless the problem was fixed.

Interestingly enough, this glitch doesn’t seem to actually put your phone or device in any danger, but boy can it be used to annoy people. And that’s exactly what seems to be happening. In a nutshell, some prankster read the article and decided to pull a copycat hack in the process.

You may also like: Scammers are creating fake financial sites to steal your money

The blame doesn’t lie with Abss, however. He’s a bug bounty hunter and one who has netted more than $30,000 in rewards for his work. To date, Microsoft and Google have addressed the problem, so users shouldn’t be seeing any more of these weird messages for the time being.

I still hate how many notifications I get. What can I do about them?

Despite how annoying they can be, it’s easy to disable notifications no matter what kind of smartphone you’re using. Whether it’s an Android or an iPhone, you just need to make a quick trip into settings to make these apps go silent.

On Android:

  1. Open your device’s Settings app.
  2. Tap on Apps & notifications, followed by Notifications.
  3. Under “Recently sent,” locate the apps that recently sent you notifications.
    • From here, you can turn off all notifications for a specific app.
    • To pick from different categories of notifications, tap on the app’s name.
    • To see more apps, tap See all from last 7 days. You can sort by Most recent or Most frequent.

On iPhone:

  • Open the Settings app and tap on Notifications.
  • From here, you’ll see a list of every app installed on your phone. Tap on an app to adjust specific notification settings.
  • To disable notifications for an app, tap the app and toggle Allow Notifications to your desired position.

Alternatively, you may wish to activate Do Not Disturb on your device to temporarily silence notifications altogether. If you do this, don’t worry — you can always reactivate them by following these same steps again.

On Android:

  • Swipe down from the top of your screen and tap Do Not Disturb to activate the feature.

On iPhone:

  • Open the Settings app on your iPhone and scroll down to Do Not Disturb.
  • Tap Do Not Disturb and toggle the button next to Do Not Disturb to your desired position.
  • You can also swipe down from the top right of your screen (iPhone X and newer) or swipe up from the bottom of your screen and tap the moon icon to enable Do Not Disturb.

Do Not Disturb is great for making sure you get some much-needed shuteye and will keep annoying notifications away until you turn it off again. Just don’t forget to do it when you wake up. Otherwise, you might miss an important call or three.

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