• December 6, 2016

Carrying Risk in Your Pocket: The Dangers of Apps

Apps are a high-tech utilitarian wonder. They can also pose a mobile security risk by leaving data exposed. Here are tips to stay secure.

Apps bring utility to our phones. They allow us to order a taxi, interact with our friends, and access information. They manage important details about our lives, perform thankless tasks, and offer a source of entertainment. Given their many benefits—and the fact that they’re typically either free or very inexpensive—it’s not surprising that the average person has dozens if not hundreds of apps on their phone.

But these undeniably wonderful apps are a potential threat to your mobile security. A recent review of more than 400,000 mobile apps from the Google Play app store, for example, revealed some interesting findings. One example: A whopping 25 percent of Android apps tested had at least one high-risk security flaw. (It’s unclear whether the numbers are similar for the iTunes App Store.) Although 400,000 is a relatively small number of apps compared to the estimated 4.2 million apps collectively available across the Google Play and iTunes App stores, it’s a large enough sample size to draw some important conclusions.

There’s a good chance that some of the apps on your phone are leaving your data exposed through improper file permissions. Others might not use the proper encryption when communicating over the network and could leak your personal data as a result. The reality is that at least some of your apps could leave your mobile devices vulnerable to an attack.

Staying Secure in an Insecure World

Security risks are a problem both for the companies that build apps and for the end users who enjoy them. Both groups need to take precautions.

For developers:

  • Engage in rigorous testing
  • Stay up-to-date on the latest security flaws and check for them

For consumers:

  • Don’t download apps from third-party providers; that’s how the majority of malware gets in
  • Keep your apps updated so you always have the latest version
  • Avoid using apps that contain sensitive personal information while you’re on a public Wi-Fi network
  • Use strong usernames and passwords to access your apps

The Way Forward

Mobile apps are an important part of our daily lives, both personally and professionally. While potential vulnerabilities exist on any mobile device, you can dramatically reduce your attack surface by being thoughtful about which apps you use, where you get them, and whether you’re keeping them up-to-date. There are also tools and—wouldn’t you know it?—apps that you can use to evaluate and score just how safe the apps you’re using are. Armed with that information, you can make informed decisions about how best to keep your mobile devices safe.

Like this story? Check out the infographic on why your enterprise can’t ignore the mobile revolution. And learn more on application transformation for the digital age.