How to Safely Whet Your Appetite for Smartphone Apps

By Hector Cisneros

Does the public’s uncontrollable appetite for free smartphone apps also make you vulnerable? Right now there are approximately 4,000,000 apps combined that are available in the top four app stores. Are these apps being checked before being released to the public? Are we vulnerable as users by downloading free apps on our smart phones? Could we be compromising our security and financial information by using these apps? In this episode you will learn the truth about using free apps, how to stay safe, and what to look for when deciding “to get an app for that”. So stay tuned and turn onto this week’s Working The Web To Win and learn “how to safely whet your appetite” for smart phone apps.

What are the Facts?

Courtesy of  statista.com
Back in Mayof 2012 we wrote about how the general public was showing an uncontrollableappetite for smart phone apps. At that time smartphone usage had not eclipsed desktop and Apple was the king of the hill when it came to free app's that you could buy online. Even then, there were already 1 million plus apps available between Apple and Android platforms. There were even a few hundred apps available for other platforms as well (i.e. Blackberry, Microsoft etc…). Today, there are over 4 million app's and as before many are pay to play, but the vast majority of them  are free or what is being deemed " freemium" apps. Freemium apps are app's that have adware tied to them or only include a few free levels. Good examples of these are the infamous "Angry Birds, game series, where you can play have several levels for free, but there are upgrades and other levels for which you have to fork out fees to peruse.

Big Questions Need Real Answers

The big questions we asked in 2011 are still the most important questions that every man, woman and child ought to be asking when they download these so called free apps.  “What's the catch? Are free apps really free? Are they safe? Are we sharing our personal information when we download these apps?”

Courtesy of  Lookout S/W
I know when someone buys an application like Microsoft Office or any other packages, that they never read the ULA (the user licensing agreement). So I have no doubt that when someone downloads a so called “free app", they don't read the ULA either. I would go further to bet that very few even pay attention to the warning screen that shows every user to what resources they're giving the app access.

This is the normal operating procedure for most smartphone users (when downloading free and paid apps online). The majority of the public is asleep at the wheel when it comes to protecting their personal data.  Most have no idea that by downloading and installing most free apps, they are giving the app company free access to all the data on their smart phone. Back in 2012, we and many others rang the alarm to the dangers inherent with downloading free smartphone apps.  Back then the app screening process had many gaps in it, especially on Android platforms. Things got better today.  However, the sheer number of new apps being developed and submitted to the Google Play store and Apple iTunes store is so overwhelming that hackable apps sneak past these stores safeguards.

What's amazing to me is how a couple of years ago people were up in arms about Google’s privacy policy. The same is true about how they felt about Microsoft or any large company collecting and sharing their data. Recently there was a huge uproar about the NSA capturing millions of cell phone texts and conversations, yet billions of people are willing to give up their intimate information to every social media platform on the planet. They will clearly share sexual preferences, political and religious affiliations, without blinking an eye.  These same people will then use these social platforms to log into untested smartphone apps using their Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or LinkedIn accounts! To make matters worse, many of these untested apps often ask for, or require access to your profile data, even for access to your friends listed on these social networks. When asked about the need for privacy, most people say they want to keep their privacy, but like I said in my article "The Piracy of Privacy - The Looting of Privacy in America", we lost most of our privacy years ago.
Courtesy of  www.flickr.com

You think you safe because you don't download and use apps? Wrong! If you have friends on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or other major social network, you're vulnerable! This is because your friends do download free apps and if they are compromised, in many cases so is their friends list. This is similar to what has happened to a person's when their computer is compromised.  The hacker bot software hijacks their email system and then sends emails out in your name to all the people in the contact list on that computer. This is an attempt to compromise other system.  The difference here is that this time the hackers are accessing your friends list on one of the major social nets.

A Laissez-faire Attitude Comes with a Price

Needless to say, this laissez-faire attitude can leave you extremely vulnerable to phone hacking or worse, compromising your identity and the security of your financial information. Far from showing any signs of slowing down, identity theft and hacking worldwide is at an all-time high. In fact, we are seeing exponential growth in US for hacking and ID theft.  Hackers today don't use  lots of anti-cypher or code breaker software to guess your passwords - they just gather your information from social media, free apps and all the information most people readily share online. Once they have enough information they can usually guess what they need to know (if you haven't already given it to them on your smartphone).
Courtesy of  www.flickr.com

So how do you protect yourself? What can an average Joe do to not easily fall victim to this onslaught of backdoor sneak attacks via crooked free apps and over shared social information. Well, there is some good news. I have compiled a list of simple security measures you can implement to reduce your risk of being compromised so that you don't lose your identity and financial security. Here is my short list of safeguarding tips you should implement immediately.

Hector The Connectors Security Tips:

  1. If you have a smart device (smartphone or tablet), make sure you have installed an antivirus/malware application on your devices. Install a free one at the very least. I recommend ponying up the small amount needed to purchase one of these apps. This small investment can save you in a big way. (This is always true for your computers as well).
  2. Keep your anti-malware application up-to-date by having it set to auto update. Also scan your device/s frequently. These products also scan free apps that you download. Again the same is true for your computers, especially if you sync your smart phone with it for music and other apps.
  3. You may find that you already own one of these products. My latest smartphone came with the "Lookout" app install on it. I also have a multi user license at the office for TrendMicro that that desktop product also comes with a mobile security protection app.
  4. Never download or buy an application that does not have hundreds of downloads and a high rating. Downloading new app's that have not been vetted by the marketplace is a surefire way to make sure you're on the cutting edge of a hacker’s knife.
  5. If you really like that free app, buy it. Many of the purchased apps limit or eliminate the adware that runs on many smart devices. These ads could be linked to applications that put you at risk to unscrupulous companies or worse, the criminal element who are itching to get at your data.
  6. Limit what you keep on your smart device. If you must keep sensitive information on your smart device because you use it to buy things online, make sure you use either the security features built into your anti-malware applications that encrypt your sensitive data, or you should purchase software that provides this feature for you.
  7. Stay away from questionable ads and the websites they are linked to. You can't blame criminals if they are fishing for your information with risqué ad's show half naked girls promising magical affairs. You're the one who decides that it's OK to click on that kind of ad! By the same token, stay away from offers that seem too good to be true. These ad's that dangling pie in the sky deals are just fishing. So, unless you know for sure that it's coming from a reputable company (one for which you can verify the offer and URL that it's listed on) don't fall for it.
  8. Limit what you share on Facebook and other social networks.  Cyber criminals go out of their way to systematically collect your personal information until that have built a detail profile of who you are, who you're connected with and what your regular behavior is. This information can give them the ability to fool you into giving up more information willingly, by just getting you to fill out a form, accept an email, and yes download an app!
  9. When not using your smart phone, turn off  the wifi and Bluetooth services. This can easily be done by enabling airplane mode. You can still listen to music and even play some games without a wireless connection. It's ok to turn off your phone in the evening when it's charging. No one can compromise a smart device if it’s not connected to the internet.
  10. Buy and use single use credit cards. Also, using programs like Apple Pay, Google Pay and PayPal can provide additional layers of protection. If you have credit and debit cards make sure they are the new ones with smart chips on them. Insist that your financial institutions provide them to replace to old dumb cards. Minimize the use of your debit cards as well.
  11. Purchase ID protection and check your credit status on a regular basis. You can buy these products from many insurance carriers as well as from your bank and companies like LifeLock.com.
  12. Last but not least, be vigilant, keep up with the news about major hacks, compromised apps and the constant news of security breaches happening on a daily basis. Be smart and make good choices. Most security breaches are self inflicted wounds - not the Herculean efforts of super hackers.
Courtesy of Google Play store

Here is a list of links to the top security product (and their URL) that we feel are worth looking at to protect your smart device.  Many have free trial app's but like I said before, I would purchase one of these and make sure I keep it up to date.

Top Free and Pay to Play Security Apps  on Android

Top Free and Pay to Play Security Apps  for Apple on iTunes
Courtesy of  Apple iTunes Store
In this article I have discussed the problems associated with the public's uncontrollable appetite for downloading "so called" free smart device apps (smart phones and tablets). I have covered the inherent dangers of untested and un-vetted free apps and also address the dangers of how many of these "free apps", capture your profile and contact data from your smart phone, tablets and your social networks. Finally, I provided a list of security tips to help minimize your security risks and a list of security products designed to protect your smart devices.

That's my opinion; I look forward to hearing yours.

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If you’d like to find more articles like this, read, "What Does the Public’s Uncontrollable App-etite Mean to You?",  “Trick or Tweet? The Vulnerabilities Inherent to Twitter and All Social Networks” and “Big Data Comes Wrapped in Big Danger” or enter the words “Hacking or Privacy” in the search box at the top of this blog. If you found this article useful, please share it with friends, family, co-workers and associates. If you have something to add or have a difference of opinion, place them in the Comments section.  It’s been my pleasure sharing this information with you.

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Hector Cisneros is a partner, COO and Social Media Director for the award-winning, Internet-based marketing firm, Working the Web to Win, in Jacksonville, FL. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebookGoogle+,  LinkedIn,  and YouTube.  He’s also the co-host of BlogTalkRadio’s “Working the Web to Win,” where he and Working the Web to Win’s co-founder, Carl Weiss, make working the web to win simple for every business. Additionally, Hector is a syndicated writer on Ezine Online and is an active blogger (including ghost writing). He's a published author of two books, "60 Seconds to Success"(available at Amazon and B&N), and "Internet Marketing for the 21st Century," which you can get by filling out the form above. He’s also the co-author of the new book, “Working The Web to Win,” which is now available on Amazon.com.

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1 comment:

  1. Now that I am thoroughly terrified to use my smartphone...thanks Hector! OK, I'm over it already. Angry birds with friends, anyone?

    ReplyDelete