For most of us, mobile apps are an indispensable part of our day. Using apps we check the weather forecast before leaving home, message our friends and family, order takeout and get directions as we travel. Almost everything we do online is using a mobile app on our smartphone or tablet.
But how often do you ever stop to think what the app is doing in the background? How does it actually work? When it comes to keeping your personal data safe, it is important to ask these questions.
Where do apps come from?
Virtually anyone can write an app – all they need is some basic programming experience, a developer account with a mobile app store, and a really good idea. Once complete, they then upload their creation to one of the app stores (Apple App Store, Google Play, Amazon app store) for approval. The app undergoes a series of basic checks to confirm it is free of malware, and is then made available for download from the app store.
This check is a vital step in keeping your phone malware-free. You should never download apps from other sources as they may contain malicious code and viruses.
How do they work?
Every app is different, but depending on the code and technologies used, they fall into three main categories.
Native apps are specifically developed for your smartphone. Most can run without a WiFi or cellular connection because they are built to include virtually everything they need. Most games are developed as native apps, as are the tools that come included with your phone, like email and calendar.
Hybrid apps are similar because much of the core technology is included with the install. Using multi-platform web technologies however hybrid apps can access online resources, for displaying real time information for instance. A flight tracking app is a good example – the app is continually downloading information about the position of a plane and using it to update a map display for instance.
Web-based apps are very much like mobile websites – the app itself behaves like a mobile browser to access and display online content. All of the clever functionality is done by the web server – not your phone.
What does this mean for security?
Native apps are usually safest because they have been carefully checked for the presence of malware. These apps are also designed not to access and download untested content from the web, reducing the risk of infection.
Hybrid and web-based apps are much less secure because they are constantly connecting to external systems. It is perfectly possible that hackers could compromise those web connections, using them to infect your phone.
Ideally you would only install native apps in future – but sometimes you have to use the alternatives. When this is the case, having mobile anti-malware installed on your smartphone is crucial because it can help to identify – and block – suspicious app activity automatically.
So don’t delay, download a free Panda Antivirus for Android trial and make your smartphone safer today.