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September 18, 2015

How to Safely Whet Your Appetite for Smartphone Apps

Photo Credit: KROMKRATHOG via freedigitalphotos.net

Does the unswerving popularity of free Smartphone apps also make you vulnerable? Right now there are approximately four million 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 article 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.’

What are the Facts?

Courtesy of  statista.com

Courtesy of statista.com

Back in 2012, Smartphone usage had yet to eclipse 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 one 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 more than four million app’s and as before many are pay to play, but the vast majority of them are free or what is being deemed as ‘freemium’ apps. Freemium apps are apps 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 questions we were asking four years ago 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

Courtesy of Lookout S/W

It’s a well-known fact that when someone buys an application like Microsoft Office or any other packages, 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.

It still amazes me that, 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

Courtesy of www.flickr.com

If you think you’re safe because you don’t download and use apps, you’re 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

It is this laissez-faire attitude, however, 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

Courtesy of www.flickr.com

But how can an average Joe 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:

apps-5

  1. Those with 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. Ensure your anti-malware application is 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 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. Do not even consider downloading or buying 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 there is a free app you like, 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. Do not keep a lot of stored 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. Do not go near questionable ads or 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. Keep what you share on Facebook and other social networks to a minimum.  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 e-mail, and yes download an app!
  9. If you are not using your Smartphone, turn off  the Wi-Fi 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. 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. Buy 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. Always be vigilant, in keeping 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

Courtesy of Google Play store

The following is a list of links to the top security product (and their URL) that 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

Courtesy of Apple iTunes Store

Courtesy of  Apple iTunes Store

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Hector Cisneros is the president and COO for W Squared Media Group LLC. A digital Marketing Agency in the N.E. Florida Area. He is also the co-host of the BlogTalkRadio Show Working The Web To Win. W Squared Media also does Business as Working The Web To Win online and in Florida.

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