Karaoke apps raise security concerns

Customers having a karaoke session at Manekineko using the firm's MyKara app. The karaoke chain offers secured Wi-Fi for customers to surf the Internet and to control the song-selection system.
Customers having a karaoke session at Manekineko using the firm's MyKara app. The karaoke chain offers secured Wi-Fi for customers to surf the Internet and to control the song-selection system.ST PHOTO: CAROLINE CHIA

Convenient to use but mobile devices are exposed to risks in unsecured Wi-Fi networks

Karaoke aficionados know the feeling of fighting over one computer terminal to select their tunes all too well. But such days may be over, with more karaoke joints offering apps that let users control song selection from their mobile phones.

Such apps spell greater convenience for karaoke fans, although cyber-security experts warn that users may potentially expose their mobile devices to the risks of unknown networks, especially if they are unsecured or lack firewalls.

These apps let users select songs, adjust volume and pitch and sound effects, replacing the traditional touchscreens or remote controls.

While not all major karaoke chains here have adopted the use of such apps, they are slowly growing in popularity.

Karaoke firms which do so cite user convenience and the need to keep up with technology.

Home-grown karaoke chain Cash Studio was among the first here to roll out the use of such smartphone apps almost three years ago.

"The biggest advantage of such apps is that they allow multiple customers in one KTV room to simultaneously choose songs," said a Cash Studio spokesman.

"So there is no need to use a remote control or touchscreen, which limits usage to only one person at any one time," she added.

At such outlets, users are asked to download the app as they are being assigned a room.

They have to log into the outlet's Wi-Fi network, which is split into one network for each room.

They type in a password either into the Wi-Fi network or through the app, which then connects the user's phone to the room's karaoke system. This allows them to sync song selection and other features with the room's system.

These apps have found favour with karaoke fans, such as operations officer Adam He, 27.

"They're easy to use, even with multiple users selecting songs," he said. "And it shortens the time taken to choose, shuffle or skip songs and can be used anywhere in the room without your having to move from your seat."

But not all users are fans of such apps. Postgraduate student Qiu Yonghui, 25, said: "Sometimes the room Wi-Fi is choppy and you can't connect. There might be security risks connecting to the karaoke place's Wi-Fi as well."

Manekineko, which has 11 outlets here, lets customers use the firm's MyKara app at eight of the outlets. At its Bugis+ outlet, the customers have to use the app for song selection, as the outlet does not have the computer touchscreen.

The popular Japanese karaoke chain, which bought over local karaoke firm K Box last year, offers secured Wi-Fi for customers to surf the Internet and to control the song-selection system.

A Manekineko spokesman said using such apps gives customers greater convenience. "Users are able to select songs at the convenience of their fingertips using their own mobile phone," she said.

These apps also bring other useful features to users, such as saving their favourite songs in a playlist and, in some cases, stream their own videos to the karaoke outlet's screens.

Another popular karaoke chain, Party World KTV, is also testing a mobile song-selection app for its outlets. A trial version of the app has been tested at its Liang Court premises in the past three months.

Its business development and estate manager Christopher Ng said: "We are still working on the stability of the app and solving other issues, such as cyber safety."


Despite the ease of use and convenience of such apps, some users have security and privacy concerns.

Cash Studio's Cuppage outlet, for example, uses an unsecured Wi-Fi network which users connect to. They have only to key in a password from the app, while the network itself does not require one.

"A Wi-Fi network any customer can access is just one step below an open network," said Mr He. "It's a trade-off between security and convenience."

A Cash Studio spokesman said: "There is no Internet connection when the phone is connected via Wi-Fi to our song-selection system. It is a local Wi-Fi network. This eliminates 90 per cent of security issues."

But cyber-security experts warn that unsecured networks - those which do not require passwords - in general pose a threat to users.

"Without a password, attackers' job is very easy. They can take copies of the traffic and join the network simply by capturing the signal between the device and access point," said Mr Nick Savvides, a security advocate from anti-virus software firm Symantec.

"They can also join the network and perform phishing and man-in- the-middle attacks," he said.

Ms Sylvia Ng, the general manager for South-east Asia of software security company Kaspersky Lab, said: "But this doesn't mean you have to stay away from free Wi-Fi and tether yourself to a desk again. The vast majority of hackers are simply going after easy targets, and taking a few precautions should keep your information safe.

"Being aware of permission access requests from applications running on your phone is the first step towards ensuring you are not unknowingly sharing private data with hackers.

"Secondly, make sure you use a reputable anti-malware program on all your mobile devices - and ensure the antivirus databases are regularly updated."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 01, 2017, with the headline 'Karaoke apps raise security concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe