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Are your smartphone apps selling you out?

Mike Elgan | Dec. 9, 2013
Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean your mobile apps aren't out to get you

A new report from Trend Micro found that there are now 1 million "malware and high-risk apps" in the wild.

"High-risk apps" are defined in the report as those that "aggressively serve ads that lead to dubious sites," and represent one quarter of the total.

An information security company called Trustwave said this month that file-sharing apps for iPhones and iPads can compromise user security -- even simple picture-sharing apps or apps that enable users to exchange documents.

The problem is that some of these apps open up an insecure file server on the device, which theoretically makes the file vulnerable to copying or could enable malicious crackers to upload files of their own. Some apps don't even require user authentication. The problems tend to be worse when apps run on older versions of iOS.

Some of these reports come from companies that sell solutions to the smartphone apps' security and privacy problems, so their conclusions should be taken in that context. However, it's clear that the problem is real and widespread.

So what can users do about it? Do you have to become a security expert just to keep your personal data private?

The unfortunate answer is: Yes, kind of.

Education is the best defense. Certain types of smartphone security products, such as iPhone fingerprint readers or Android anti-malware apps, protect against some risk but not most of the problems associated with apps.

In general, we all need to be more selective about the apps we download and not assume that just because it's highly rated or popular that it's OK.

We also need to think about which data we want to keep private, and which data we don't. For example, if you're concerned about protecting your location data, there are a set of steps you can take to reduce the risk of that information getting out.

If, on the other hand, you carry financial data around on your phone, well, there's an entirely different set of actions you need to take.

The take-away here for all users is that the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store and the other Android stores are jam-packed with apps that can compromise your security and privacy without you ever knowing anything bad happened.

So be careful about what you download, don't be lulled by security features that can't protect you against bad apps, and take deliberate action to protect the private information you most want to safeguard.


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