Would it make you uncomfortable if your children or your neighbor grabbed your smart phone and started looking around? Probably not, but what about a complete stranger? This is often what happens when you download an app from app stores without doing some due diligence. Many apps ask for you to open doors they have no business accessing. This can open up your phone to more then just an app you thought you could trust.
Official app Stores vs. third party app stores
Apple® AppStore and Google Play™ are the two biggest official app stores. You can go there to download mobile applications for your iPhone or Android device.
Are they safe? Apps in the official app stores usually follow strict development criteria. The official stores also test the applications for malware. This is the safest place to get apps.
Third-party app stores may not use the same level of scrutiny toward the apps they allow to be listed in their app stores. Third-party app stores might offer plenty of safe applications. But there’s also a higher chance they might offer dangerous ones. Third-party app stores should be avoided as much as possible.
Certain categories of applications were also more likely to contain malware. Arranged by likelihood:
- Lifestyle apps
- Music and Audio
- Books and Reference
Many apps contain grayware. This is a term used to classify apps that behave in an undesirable manner, but not classified as malicious malware. A common type of grayware is mobile adware which contains popup ads in your phone’s notification bar.
Symantec reported a 20% increase in grayware application variants recently, for a total of 3,655 types. Norton research shows that more than 60% of Android apps contain adware or other grayware. Of these:
- 63% were found to have leaked the device’s phone number
- 37% leaked device location
- 35% leaked installed application information
There are security apps such as Norton Mobile and Trend Micro Mobile Security that can protect your phone from malware and annoying grayware, but perhaps the best thing to do is understand what happens when you install a new app. Many potentially unwanted app behaviors are written on purpose and documented in the app’s user agreement. Reading app disclosures and agreements before installing is the best practice.
When an app first installs, it asks you for permissions. To combat grayware, you should question what an app really needs permission to do.
Does your new weather app really need permissions to access your contacts and calendars? Often when prompted for access you should just say no.
Permission to Do What?
There are hundreds of types of permissions, and many apps ask for more permissions than they need. Most people don’t know what they mean. They just enable everything. This is a bad practice. You should disable everything unless you know why the app needs it. The more restricted you keep your apps the safer your data will be. Here’s a list of a few of the most common permissions:
- Storage: modify/delete storage contents – apps that store pictures and video will require this.
- Network communication: full access – many apps need to access the internet, this often relates to ads as well
- Your location: network-based – weather and travel apps, free games, often contain ads so they can deliver targeted ads based on your location.
- System tools: prevent device from sleeping – usually means that when you’re using the app, it will keep your phone from going to sleep or from entering into a reduced power mode.
- Your personal information: read contact data – most social media or messaging apps will request access to your contact information
- Root: super user access – When an app asks for root access you should seriously consider whether it needs super user access. Firewalls and backup apps often require root access. Most apps don’t
Android vs IOS which is safer?
There are millions of apps available for download. There are twice as many apps on the Google Play store then on the Apple® AppStore. The number alone at Google Play makes it a more dangerous place to find apps. If the app is available for iPhone and Android there is a higher probability that it is safer, but no guarantee.
There’s no doubt Android is a bit more of a risk than iOS, but, with the right precautions, it can still be a safe platform. If you must install apps from anywhere on an Android phone, at least do everything you can to ensure they’re safe before you let them loose on your contacts, messages and social media accounts. Install a scanning app such as Norton Mobile Security, or Google Play Protect and use it wisely on new downloads to prevent any malicious activity.
What about Jailbreaking my phone?
Sometimes an app developer does not play by the rules and the only way to get the app to the public is to recommend jailbreaking your phone. Jailbreaking your device frees the OS to run unapproved applications. The process of jailbreaking is legal but it’s not a good practice. Jailbreaking allows unapproved code, voids your warranty, and can cause stability and security concerns.
Also, if your company issues you a work phone this would generally be prohibited. Most companies have policies for what you can do with their phone when using it for work. Unless you’re a tech guru and the risk is worth the reward, jailbreaking is a bad idea. I refuse to do this on my personal devices.
Is this app Secure?
Apple® AppStore has made it mandatory for all developers to require new apps use a secure connection such as https. The Android developer platform has also just finalized this process in 2018. Still, older grandfathered apps exist on app stores that were original approved using unsecure http. So, check the reviews, and check the date of the last review. If its 3 years old, perhaps its time to look for a better solution. Also, it is a good practice to update your apps anytime there is a security update. A trendy app is no longer great if your connection to their server is compromised on public Wi-Fi. So, stick to the Official app stores and update your apps often.
Does Spectrum Financial have an app?
I’m glad you asked! Now would be a great time to download the Spectrum Access app available at both the Apple® AppStore and Google Play™ It’s a secure way for our clients to view
- Aggregation of all household accounts
- Account Activity, holdings, and balances
- Performance Summary
- Quarterly Statements
- General tax and beneficiary reports