Risks of downloading apps

The snappy catchphrase “there’s an app for that” is true – there really is a smartphone app for almost every task you can think of. There’s a virtual cow milking simulator, a carpet cost calculator and a tool for counting how many beers you have drunk for instance.

But next time you are looking for an app that’s a little unusual, there’s a risk you could be downloading something far worse.

The problem of infected apps

Smartphones are now essential to daily life, making them a target for hackers and cybercriminals who want to access the sensitive data stored on them. Bank details, passwords, sensitive images and work-related information can all be found on most phones now – exactly the kind of information that criminals will steal and use for profit.

One way to grab this data is through the use of infected apps. These apps may offer some genuinely useful features – but behind the scenes, they are also stealing information and sending it back to the hacker. You probably won’t even notice anything is wrong until it is too late.

So how can you protect against infected apps?

1. Always use a reputable app store

For Apple users, the App Store is the only place you can download apps officially. You can install apps from other places if you jailbreak your phone, but doing so makes you much more vulnerable to attack.

Android users have much more choice when it comes to installing apps. As well as the Google Play store, they can get new applications from Amazon and Samsung too. There are also dozens of third party sites to choose from too.

However, to stay safe you should only ever download apps from official stores. Official store owners check every new app to confirm that it is safe to use before making it available for download. Which means that you are much less likely to fall victim to a smartphone hacker.

2. Never install apps direct

Android phones can install apps without connecting to a store at all. You can easily download new apps using the browser on your phone for instance. You should never, ever install an app in this way unless you are certain it is safe.

And just as email is used to spread malware that infects your home computer, cybercriminals can also attach infected apps to their messages. You should never open APK Android attachments on your phone that have been sent by email. Instead, ask your contact to send a link to the relevant app in an official store – that way you can be sure it is malware free.

3. Check the permissions

When installing apps, you will often be asked to confirm access to your phone’s data, like the address book or camera roll. You should always carefully check to whether the app really needs that access, and block any permissions it doesn’t need.

Consider the virtual cow milking app – if it asked for access to your camera roll, you should take a second to consider the request. Does a game really need access to your photographs? If you are in any doubt at all, you should decline the request.

Get help

Finally, you should ensure your smartphone has a robust anti-malware security app installed. This will allow you to check the apps you have installed, how they work, and whether any are behaving badly and stealing data.

To protect your phone against fake apps and mobile hackers, download a free trial of Panda Mobile Security from the Google Play store now.