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Malicious phone apps and how to avoid them

4:48 AM, Apr 10, 2012   |    comments
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Your phone goes everywhere with you. You keep it at your desk at work, near your bed when you sleep, and in your pocket during dinner. Many people use their phones for mobile banking, keeping in close touch with friends and family over Facebook and Twitter, and sending countless text messages about their daily lives. But do our phones deserve the trust we place in the security of all the information we're giving them?

If you choose your apps carefully and give out your personal information sparingly, you'll have no problem at all. But if you download everything and give out your name and address every time you can, you'll be making a huge mistake.

Smartphones and apps are just like anything in life - only give your personal information to the apps you trust. You wouldn't walk up to a stranger and tell him where you live, right? In the same light, you shouldn't just tell any old app where you live, either. Let's take a look at some of the more prevalent threats that could pose a risk to your iPhone or Android device and see what you can do to avoid them.

Threats to your phone

RuFraud 

This Trojan virus that affects Android devices presents itself as a free version of a real app like Angry Birds. When it is run, it asks for permission to send text messages. Once granted, it begins sending premium rate text messages that cost $5 each, which get charged to your wireless account. You won't even know you're being charged until you review your bill.

Droid Dream Light

Here's a malicious virus that modifies Android apps, then distributes the modified versions to Google Play. This bit of code is pretty nasty; once it's on your device, it auto loads when you receive a call. It then sends sensitive data about your smartphone (like its model, International Mobile Equipment Identity, International Mobile Subscriber Identity, and software development kit) to a remote server, where it can be used for a wide variety of malevolent ends.

GGTracker

This is another Trojan that will kill your expense account. This code is installed after you click on an in-app advertisement. Once you've clicked, you're directed to a malicious website resembling Google Play's installation screen that persuades you to install and download an app. The app contains the malicious GGTracker code, which then subscribes you to premium SMS subscription services that may charge up to $9.99 per month.

FlexiSpy

Affecting Android, Apple, and Symbian devices, FlexiSpy is a scary piece of software. Not only does it provide live call interception, it also offers your smartphone spy access to SMS, emails, GPS location, and call records. It's being marketed as a tool to keep track of children with smartphones and to catch cheating lovers red-handed, but we all know how this can be used for nefarious activities as well.

How to keep yourself safe

While there are threats out there that can take advantage of your trusting nature with your phone, it's easy to make wise decisions that prevent these problems from ever happening.

Read the reviews

One of the best features in all the app stores is the wealth of user reviews of the apps. If an app has a problem or is a malicious app in disguise, then you can be pretty sure that some review of it will say so: "Warning! This app is no good!" or "This cost me $100 in text message charges!" When you see those kinds of reviews, avoid the app like the plague.

Major publishers are OK

You can be sure that apps from major publishers are probably safe. For instance, it's highly unlikely that Facebook will ever have a virus in its app or that major game publishers like Rovio (known for creating Angry Birds) will ever let malicious code get by in its games. You don't have to worry much about security problems from the big guys.

Make sure you're downloading an app from a major publisher so you don't accidentally download a fake title ridden with malware. If you don't know an app's original publisher, you can always search for it by name on Google. The publisher's website should be one of the first results to turn up.

Keep personal info personal

Just because an app asks for your personal info doesn't mean you need to give it out. Think twice before entering any sort of contest or prize giveaway an app suggests. Don't give it permission it to automatically send text messages, post to Facebook, or use your address book data. Keep your personal info private to spare yourself the headache of having to deal with malicious apps on your phone.

Finally, keep in mind that all the major app distributors (such as Apple and Google) are doing a ton to keep all the apps they offer safe and secure. Both Google Play and the Apple App Store have options for reporting malicious apps. Once an app is reported, it's quickly reviewed by trained security experts and removed if it's found to be corrupt. But even with companies doing their best to protect our privacy, it always pays to be on the lookout.

By Jordan Goodson

Tecca

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