The jaw-dropping popularity of the humble mobile app can be seen by the half-million or so available across the various app marketplaces. The industry may have grown up around the iPhone, but apps are now ubiquitous across mobile phone and tablet devices…including on Google’s, who have come under a bit of recent flak.
Is this the future of online surfing? Possibly. But this could also be the future of malware, as malware-ridden apps are becoming more and more common and are slipping through the net, particularly via Androids, according to new research by security software experts Symantec. Of course, phones are a treasure-trove of information for hackers due to them becoming more and more like small computers, so app security is set to grow in importance.
Does Apple’s App Store Provide Safer Apps?
Apps submitted to Apple’s App Store go through a screening process in an attempt to keep malware away from users, but Google allows app developers to load up unchecked apps; this is great on one hand in regards to creative freedom and such, but has also unfortunately led to mischievous hackers taking full advantage of Google’s good nature and faith in developers.
For example, the DroidDream/Angry Bird malware ruffled a few feathers a couple of months ago, with Google themselves labelling it “the mother of all Android malware”. The malware stole product ID, model, partner (provider?), language, country, and userID. Scarily it also had the ability to download more code, which means the hacking possibilities caused the hackers to shake with excitement. To be fair to Google, the “kill-switch” removed the malware from infected devices instantly with no action to be done by the owner. Pretty impressive.
But it’s not just rogue apps that are the potential problem, as hackers can also hack into legitimate apps, like the Steamy Windows app that was hacked to put malware onto people’s smart phones and send invisible text messages to premium rate numbers, which resulted in the hackers gaining a nice hefty commission.
Always look at the names and images of an app! Fraudulent apps usually have a slightly altered name.
Apps may also support plug-ins that are downloaded and which are loaded at a later time, which can lead to hacking problems if these plug-ins are stored in an insecure location. Hackers are very clever, so it is a constant metaphorical battle for security software to stay one step ahead, but also requires the user to be more aware of the risks of apps.
Prevention of malware is the key here, but if you think you have downloaded a dodgy app, you should ring customer support for the makers of the device and install a security app – Norton Mobile Security and LookOut are good for androids – to scan and remove apps if it detects malware.
The news that there are risks in using a smartphone or tablet running either operating system might surprise some of you, but it is thankfully less risky than using a PC. So, don’t get your knickers in a malware-enduced twist just yet…but do a bit of research by reading the comments in the Android Market section and “googling” the app before clicking.
Yes, Google may frustrate some developers if they made the app acceptance process harder for the Android Market, but the main focus should be on the applications’ security and the safety of the end user’s data.
(P.S. Yes, the title was a tad over the top. I apologise.)