Internet Security

Be Careful What You Download? App-solutely!

By a Symantec employee

In this LifeLock UnLocked post, our friends at the Identity Theft Resource Center provide some valuable tips about downloading apps for your smartphone.

Perhaps the greatest thing about mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are the applications that power them. Some apps are developed by the device manufacturer (like Apple or Samsung), but more likely, when you hear about a great new game or a time-saving app, it was created by an outside developer whose only job is to write these programs and sell them to mobile device users.

But there’s a hidden problem with apps, and that’s the amount of data they can access through your device.That new game that everyone’s playing on their phones could actually be gathering up enough information on you to leave your privacy vulnerable. So what should you do? Do you carry around an expensive device and never download any of the content that makes it useful? Of course not. But be careful what you download. And keep these thoughts in mind to stay privacy-safe with your apps.

Flashlight apps may not be a bright idea

One of the biggest culprits in recent months has been flashlight apps. These handy little downloads turn your camera’s flash on or turn your display into a bright white light, and they’re actually really useful. Unfortunately, a number of flashlight apps were investigated and found to access a lot of your personal information, presumably for the purposes of sharing it with someone outside of your system. Why in the world does a flashlight need access to your contacts list stored in your phone, or access to your photographs?

An article for ComputerWorld.com highlighted the real problem: “Apps can trace your Web habits, look into your contact list, make phone calls without your knowledge, track your location, examine your files, and more. They can also automatically send information such as location data to mobile ad networks.”

You may want to stick to your official app store

Another problem involves apps that don’t come from your device operating system’s application store. There are a host of websites out there that sell everything from games to ringtones to functionality apps, and these sites can be riddled with malicious applications that do more than just play a song or shine a flashlight.

Also, there are a lot of apps—even ones sold by approved vendors in your device’s approved app store—that allow third-party vendors to access your information. These apps are gathering your data for the purposes of tracking your habits, your web surfing history, even your location. Before you start to worry about being spied on, this is usually just for the purposes of selling your information to advertisers.

So, what can you do to ensure that your privacy remains intact? Make sure that the amount of information you are allowing the app to have access to is only the information it will need to perform its intended function. If it requires access to lots of personal information, you will have to weigh the need for the app versus the exposure of that information to others. Be mindful of what you’re downloading, where it came from, and what permissions you gave it.

Google your app?

Research apps to determine if they are safe before downloading. If the app is new, or not well known, do a quick Google search to see if there are any reviews of the app. A Google search for “app name – problems” may be rewarding.

How will you know if you’re a victim of a malicious app? Just as your PC will slow down when infected with malware, a smartphone will do the same. Problems with slow operation and decreased functionality can mean that malware is present on a phone’s operation system. Another way to tell that your phone has been compromised is if it seems as though your phone has a mind of its own. If applications open on their own, the phone powers on or off by itself or items are downloaded without permission, it may mean that software allowing outside access has been installed.

Smartphones are one of the great technological advances that make our lives easier and more efficient. Just make sure you’re being as smart about your smartphone as you are about your financial or medical identity.

This LifeLock UnLocked post is courtesy of the Identity Theft Resource Center.

Symantec Corporation, the world’s leading cyber security company, allows organizations, governments, and people to secure their most important data wherever it lives. More than 50 million people and families rely on Symantec’s Norton and LifeLock comprehensive digital safety platform to help protect their personal information, devices, home networks, and identities.

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