Remember, 20 years ago, when it was a technological marvel to be able to make a phone call from a device roughly the size of a shoebox? And yet, in such a short span of time we have shifted to a practical dependence on the connectivity of mobile devices and the convenience they afford. Smartphones and tablets offer users a unique accessibility that is both universal and personal at the same time—and has changed the way we interact, eat, shop, and much more. Unfortunately, with such widespread adoption comes the attention of cybercriminals and other threats.
According to the most recent McAfee Mobile Security Report, your favorite mobile apps might be looking into more than what you expect, including tracking location data and other personal details, as well as oversharing and installing malware.
McAfee researchers found that privacy-invading apps are more common than ever before, and beyond violating your digital space, some even contain malware and other suspicious characteristics. After analyzing the behavior and permissions of thousands of Android apps, our research team found that 82% of apps track mobile activities, with 80% of those actually collecting location information. Aside from location-based apps like Yelp and Google Maps, many apps now collects data on where you go, with 4-out-of-5 tracking either exact location, general location, or last known location. In addition to tracking location, the majority of apps also record the Wi-Fi and data networks you use and when you turn on your device.
While some tracking may be inevitable, the real question is: what are these apps doing with all of the information that they collect? Where does it go? Who is it going to? This should concern you since some of these apps may be oversharing that information with third parties or using it to inform more nefarious groups. It is always important to explore exactly what permissions each app is asking for, like your device’s unique subscriber ID, which is linked to your name and other data that can expose your identity to cybercriminals and is sent whenever your device is communicating with other devices or programs. Additionally, permissions that can use the device’s GPS to pinpoint your exact location or read text messages can also put you at risk. Normally, this information is used to geo-target ads and mobile offers, but any additional details about you and your device can also allow cybercriminals to expand their data profiles on you.
On top of the run-of-the-mill privacy-invading apps, 35% of the most aggressive offenders also contained malware, including Trojans that can download other software or perform unwanted activities, and suspicious programs, such as spyware. Mobile malware in general almost tripled from 2012 to 2013, and continues to focus on personal data collection. Not surprisingly, a potentially dangerous app was more likely to monitor sensitive data like tasks and app usage, in addition to other personal and device-identifying information. Mobile games had the highest chance of containing malware by far, followed by tools.
I’ve written in the past about mobile location tracking along with the digital tug-o-war around user data, but the key to taking advantage of all that mobile has to offer, while at the same time keeping personal information safe, is your own choice. Before clicking ‘accept’ to download a new app, think about why it would need the information it has requested. Does a scheduling app need to access your camera or send text messages? Chances are, if something seems unnecessary, it probably is. While the tradeoff between privacy and convenience is not always black and white, being aware of app permissions and managing the information you reveal through mobile devices is crucial to the security of your smartphone or tablet.
McAfee® Mobile Security features a number of comprehensive protection options that can help users navigate the complicated waters of app safety, including:
- Malicious software detection and removal. McAfee Mobile Security can locate malware like the Android “Fake Installer” and “MasterKey” exploit before they harm your data or Android device.
- Get the “sharing” rating of your favorite apps. McAfee maintains a reputation database for Android mobile apps. Apps installed on your device are given a privacy “sharing” rating based on behavior compared to its category, the permissions it requests, and how much information it collects.
- Additional device protection even after an app is downloaded. Android users can review permissions of downloaded apps as well as remove any unwanted apps within the McAfee Mobile Security dashboard.
Keep your mobile devices and personal information safe from recent threats—download McAfee Mobile Security for Android or iOS today. Additionally, check out the complete McAfee Mobile Security Report here.