Warning! Security Issues for App Users


Security with apps is increasingly becoming a big issue. The problem is apps are useful and a big part of our lives. Every time you download and install an app on your smartphone you are giving away some information about you. This is gradually rising lot of concern.

Perhaps you may remember what I wrote in my earlier article entitled Big News & Huge Numbers From Google Play. In that post I drew your attention to the incredible numbers surrounding Android’s Play Store. On the 29th of September 2012 Google Play (Play Store) celebrated 25 billion downloads. Therefore, although security issues are rising, people do not renounce downloading free apps on their smarphones.

A study from Juniper Networks analyzes how we give away details of our lives through the use of apps. Juniper Networks conducted an analysis over 1.7 million apps on Google Play in the period March 2011 to September 2012.

I read the report, that you can find on this page, and some conclusions are worth to be mentioned here.

Something I found extremely odd, although interesting, is the fact free apps are much more likely to gather information about yourself than paid applications. The report indicates that free apps:

  • Have more permission to track your location than paid apps. 24 percent versus 6 percent.
  • Have more permission to gather information from your address books than paid apps. 7 percent versus 2 percent.
  • Have more permission to get access to and use your camera than paid apps. 5.50 percent versus 2 percent.

Juniper Networks report points that the most concerning apps category are those for Cards & Casinos and Racing games. They simply perform tasks they would not need to perform at all, therefore accessing functionalities of your phone they actually do not need to in order for you to play the game.

For instance, they are able to use your camera, or send an SMS. When this happens there is simply no reason at all for the app to take the photo, send a text or initiate a call. This behaviour is suspicious.

Juniper Networks contacted some developers asking for the reason of having a camera in the app. The answer, which seems legitimate, was that the function is intended for the user to get a picture and place it as a background for the game.

Free Apps Downloads Dominate the Market

A report published by Gartner indicates how free apps are definitely dominating the market, accounting for 90 percent of total downloads in 2012.

Worldwide demand for apps is still driven by Apple’s Apps Store, Android’s Google Play and Microsoft’s Windows Phone Marketplace. However, a myriad of new players are coming on this market today.

New entities are Amazon as well as Facebook, for instance. They will do very well due to their strong brands and position in the social networking environment. Another example is China. There is now a boom market of independent stores that are trying, and will sure succeed, in attracting part of this big market.

I believe these third parties stores will certainly grow, but the big three (Android, Apple and Microsoft) will still drive the real demand.

Pretty Scary Conclusions

It is pretty frightening to think your smartphone can secretly initiate a phone call, send a text or use the camera. A team of American researcher have created a software able to infect your mobile, and use it a device to create a 3D representation of the place where you are, such as a room in your house. See the article here if you wish.

Few years ago we were worried about a virus infecting our desktop computer but today we should perhaps concern ourselves more about the ever-present mobile phone in our pocket.

An app that initiate a phone call could be a great tool for someone who wants to listen to your conversation without you knowing that.

Now, what is the solution to all of this? Legislation regarding the app market should perhaps be tightened much more than what it is now. Authorities should concentrate on informing the public more of the seriousness of the situation so people are more comfortable in installing apps on their devices. Furthermore, I think we should sometimes leave our mobile device on the side. But how can we do this when we use it even as an alarm in the morning?

Danger.jpg photo credit: itmpa via photopin cc
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