Today’s smart phones and tablets are essentially handheld computers. Because of their portability and convenience, people often store personal data on them – such as private photos and videos, address books, passwords, email and personal calendars. But, like laptop and desktop computers, these devices need to be protected from security threats.
Malicious apps, or ‘malware‘, are often disguised as safe, popular applications. To fool you into downloading these applications, malware developers often employ professional branding (sometimes impersonated from famous companies) and falsely inflate their applications’ ratings via fake reviews. Once installed, they can wreak havoc on your device.
Be application wiser
While it’s very risky to download apps from unofficial app sites, malware can also be found on official app stores – despite the extensive efforts of store owners like Google, Apple and Blackberry to keep such apps off their sites.
To help you shop safely for applications, follow these general tips:
- Protect your device: Install a trusted mobile security app which will help protect you from malware.
- Stay official: Download apps from the official app stores only (e.g. Google Play, iTunes and BlackBerry World). And if you get suspicious text messages that include links to app downloads, refrain from clicking the links.
- Trust your instinct: If the app looks suspicious, rather be safe and abstain from installing it.
- Report offenders: If you find suspicious apps, report them to the app store, which will investigate and take action against the developer if necessary.
And once you’ve found an application you want:
- Don’t trust the numbers: Just because an application has thousands of downloads, it doesn’t mean that each downloader was a legitimate user. Malware developers can use computer programs to download the same apps repeatedly using different user accounts – thereby inflating the figures.
- Check out the reviewers: Click on the reviewers’ names to see all the reviews they’ve written. If they consistently give very high ratings, they might be review fakers.
- Get trusted advice: If there’s an app you want and someone you trust has already installed it, ask them about its safety.
- Investigate the developer: Critically review the other apps that the developer has put onto the app store – looking for some of the suspicious signs already discussed. Also, take note of the developer’s name and search the Internet for negative stories about the person / company.
- Read the fine print: Apps require certain permissions to access your device’s information or hardware. For example, a GPS application needs your device’s location information, and a photography app needs to use your camera. Malware might request intrusive, unnecessary permissions that don’t make sense.