Name almost any subject you can think of – socializing, travel, banking, and entertainment and there's an app for it. The continual growth in mobile devices has led to an explosion in mobile apps, with the average smartphone user downloading 251 applications onto their devices.
We've become quite comfortable entering all kinds of information into these apps, even identity and financial information. (Think dating and banking apps that ask for personal details.) The unfortunate news is that not all mobile applications are safe. Cybercriminals are taking advantage of their popularity to release dangerous applications that can steal personal information or even download malware onto to your device.
For instance, it was recently discovered that a free flashlight app was taking ID and location information from millions of users and selling it to ad networks2. And this isn't the only instance of seemingly good apps gone bad. Mobile malware has been growing rapidly over the past couple of years and it doubled in 2013. What's more, McAfee Labs™ predicts that it will continue to increase in volume and inventiveness in 20143.
Even some legitimate applications access more information than they need, or have potential data leaks. Take the recent case of Snapchat, where 4.6 million phone numbers and associated usernames were leaked due to a security hole that the company had overlooked, despite warning signs.
Considering these risks, it's worth taking the time to make sure that you are using mobile applications safely, especially since many of them are fun and useful.
Here are some tips to help keep your device and information safe:
Always check the app's permissions before you download it—Make sure it's not asking for access to more information that it needs, like a game app asking for permission to use your address book. Be especially cautious when sharing photos, videos, and your phone number.
Read other users' reviews—If there's a problem with the app, you'll probably see reviews warning you. Make sure to read the reviews before you download an app.
Only download apps from official app stores—Try to stick to the official Apple and Google Play stores. Third party providers are known for distributing dangerous apps.
Check your bank statements and mobile charges regularly—This way you can detect any suspicious charges and report them.
Keep your mobile software up-to-date—Updating your operating system can help improve your security. You will also want to be on the lookout for app updates since they sometimes fix security issues.
Use mobile security—Consider a solution like McAfee Mobile Security, which can protect your device against malware and loss or theft, as well as guard your privacy.