Apps. Everyone loves them, and cell phone providers are happy to provide them. Google has apps, iPhone has apps. You could say that everyone is very “appy” with their apps. In fact, the Wall Street Journal online cited that there are “more than 250,000 applications” that range from social media location-based games to financial tools currently available.
The phrase, “there’s an app for that” is now household conversation, parodied in thousands of situations. Let’s face it; the iPhone isn’t very cool without all of the applications, and Droid (by Google) is much the same. The apps are key selling points for the phones, often the key as to which phone a user will purchase.
With most technological break-thrus, the good is often weighed down by “the bad.” Security researches and the U.S. Government caution that the phone providers, in this case mainly Apple and Google, aren’t able to keep pace with the number of malicious software providers focused on stealing your information for profit.
While most of the app software is beneficial, and some of the so-called malicious software impotent, there are a few that are truly dangerous, able to steal banking information, record personal information, and use your smart phone to spread the disease. “In one incident, Google pulled dozens of unauthorized mobile-banking apps from its Android Market in December. The apps, priced at $1.50, were made by a developer named “09Droid” and claimed to offer access to accounts at many of the world’s banks.” Google yanked the software because it violated trademark policy, and in this case, the apps were “bark” and not “bite.” According to a mobile security company, the applications that Google squashed could have been automatically updated to capture consumer’s banking information. Many of the fraudulent applications are based on low-charge, or free software, and the “bad guys” are finding ways to exploit them using trusted name brands like Google, Sony, and Apple. Blackberry (Research in Motion, or RIM) and Apple have dedicated “app busting” teams that weed out the crap. Thus far though, Google has no such team.
As companies, consumers, and even our President continue to rely on wireless platforms to conduct business and share confidential information, the risk of being targeted increases. “Mobile phones are a huge source of vulnerability,” said Gordon Snow, assistant director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Cyber Division. “We are definitely seeing an increase in criminal activity.” The FBI’s Cyber Division recently began working on a number of cases based on tips about malicious programs in app stores, Mr. Snow said. The FBI bars employees from downloading applications on FBI-issued smartphones. Some apps are able to use smartphones as “bugs,” or listening and viewing devices, to capture activity.
The FBI isn’t the only government office worried; the U.S. Air Force is concerned about theft of military plans or use of personal data to compromise airmen and women. This year, the Air Force banned smartphone users (Blackberry) from downloading applications. This due to an exponential increase to exploit Air Force smartphones–500 known attempts–in May 2010.
So, how do smartphone users block attackers?
- Research the company providing the application. Chances are that someone has used it before you.
- Activate your phone’s password and security features.
- Always keep in mind that smartphones are the weak link in your digital security
- Remember that apps from trusted sources need to be verified
Previous victims are more cautious–and aware–than those who have yet to experience malicious software (Malware) or viruses. One woman lost all of her phone’s data because her son downloaded a game that contained Malware.