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Every time you install an application onto your phone, you are asked to allow that app certain permissions in order for it to function properly. However, by allowing these permissions you in turn leave your personal information vulnerable to exploitation.
Research shows nearly 30% of free mobile apps access and subsequently misuse a user’s personal data. After the app is downloaded, user data is then often used for targeted marketing purposes, while some companies actually sell it. Unfortunately, many people are unaware that the information they provide is not necessary for the app to function and actually puts their security at risk.
Below we’ve outlined some of the most high-risk apps, which may find you re-evaluating that seemingly casual download in Apple App Store and Google Play!
Top 4 High-risk Applications
Research shows Snapchat has 166 million daily active users, increasing 36% since 2016, yet requires permission to an unbelievable amount of personal information. Users may not realise they are providing access to their contact list, name, photos, location, web browsing history, email address and much more. Interestingly, a 2015 Transparency Report published by Snapchat, showed the company willingly shared user data with law enforcement.
2.Words With Friends
The app ‘Words with Friends’ shot to stardom as the guilty pleasure for friends all over the globe to come together and show off their vocabulary skills. However, this app has a big security issue by asking permission for the users ‘precise location’. While your location is an important aspect of the app, this information is inadvertently used for market analysis and targeted advertising. Users have found themselves inundated with targeted advertisements whilst playing, which often caused their devices to freeze and crash.
Introduced in 2009, the hugely successful mobile game, ‘Angry Birds’ has amassed more than 2 billion downloads to date. Despite its popularity, this app includes targeted ad libraries which access the user’s identity information such as phone call logs, signal, carrier, device ID and number. In fact, in 2014 Angry Birds poor security was successfully targeted by the National Security Agency (NSA) to obtain user information. Documents revealed the NSA collected user data and analysed it in comparison to their list of intelligence targets!
4.My Talking Tom
Parents, how many times have you downloaded a seemingly innocent app for your children? Many may have done so with ‘My Talking Tom’, the app described as a ‘security nightmare’ where children can adopt and care for a kitten. Shockingly, this app has 8 targeted ad libraries and requires your phone identity information. Most worrisome however, is the way in which it sends advertiser’s audio, likely of your children, from the microphone on the mobile device.
Top 3 Ways to Reduce Your Risk
1. Always Read the Fine Print
Before you press accept you must understand you will be providing your personal information to an unknown, third party. It is important to ask yourself if the information is logical and smart to provide for the app to function. For example, Snapchat’s newest update requires you to allow permission to your phones location services in order to use new filters. You need to ask yourself, is it really worth the risk just for a better photo?
Outlined below are the main permissions to be wary of when downloading an app, as they are very easily abused!
• GPS Location
• Network-based Location
• Wi-Fi State
• Full Internet Access
• Read Phone State and Identity
• Automatically start at boot
2.Regularly Check Your Settings
It is important to regularly check your phone's permission settings by simply going to the settings section on your device. Here, you can manually change the settings of each permission you do not want to provide. If you decide you no longer want the app, be aware that simply uninstalling it from your device is not enough. After uninstalling the app, ensure it is not still connected to other services such as Facebook.
3.Use a Risk Identifying App
Sounds pretty contradictory right? However, if you ensure to read the terms and conditions closely, many apps such as PrivacyHawk, can significantly reduce your risk of app hacking. PrivacyHawk can detect malware and viruses while conveniently ranking the most suspicious apps on your mobile device.
With 7 out of 10 apps sharing your personal data with third-party services it is clear to see why you should conduct a full evaluation of your current apps, their permissions and be wary in the future.