Smartphones are essentially tiny computers, and along with viruses, malware, identity theft and all the threats inherent in using a laptop or PC, smartphone apps open us up to an entirely new realm of security problems. Here are the threats you need to be aware of and how to protect yourself.
Most recognized and trusted app developers are experienced professionals who design and create useful, well-planned, trustworthy apps for us to use and enjoy. However, there are tons of inexperienced and even unscrupulous developers just looking to make a quick buck. Some know enough to develop apps with spyware or malware to raid your phone.
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Others aren’t trying to harm you or your phone, but simply lack the skills to develop an app safe to use. Poorly written app code can actually damage the operating system of your phone. Always research the developer before downloading one of their apps. Or, just depend on the preloaded apps available on the best ultrabook or smartphones out there. These apps are pre-screened by manufacturers for safety and security.
You may think the only ones who get access to your information are the apps you agree to share information with. Unfortunately, you’d be wrong. Many apps are guilty of sharing or selling this information to ad libraries or other third parties. Not only is your app sharing your contact information, location, a list of your apps and your call logs with the app developer, in many cases this information is sent to third parties you don’t even know about.
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Even when this knowledge is disclosed in their privacy agreement, it’s often buried deeply and difficult to understand. A new security app, still in its beta stage, may be able to help. Mobilescope tells users when the phone is transmitting data and to whom and allows users to set alerts and privacy settings to control information the app sends. Mobilescope is free during its beta stage.
The Worst Offenders
“Back alley” developers aren’t necessarily the most dangerous. Recent lawsuits against some of the big guys like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Foursquare and Yelp highlight how even well-known apps can put smartphones at a security risk. Thirteen users recently filed a class action lawsuit against these popular social networking sites for violating their privacy.
Image via Flickr by Gavin Llewellyn
The best way to protect yourself is to read privacy policies before downloading any app. Delete any apps on your phone that don’t allow you to adjust privacy settings or sharing settings. Set your phone to require a password to log on and avoid transmitting sensitive data over public Wi-Fi hotspots. Never “jailbreak” your phone to download apps from unknown developers, and keep your phone backed up regularly so you can retrieve information if the cell phone is lost or damaged by malware or a corrupt app.
The Federal Trade Commission and others are trying to extend legislation protecting computer users to smartphones, but consumers are largely unaware of the problem, and manufacturers keep focus is on producing enough phones to meet demands. A permanent solution will require an overhaul of current encryption standards, along with better regulation on downloadable apps.