There’s an App for Everything…Even Identity Theft

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When the iPhone was first released, the hot phrase seemed to be “there’s an app for that!”  This phrase popped up whenever speaking about anything you could possibly want to know or do.  These days there really is an application (app) for nearly everything.  These apps are also incredibly easy to obtain with just a tap or two on your Smartphone.  However, you should keep In mind that where there is new technology there will also always be criminals who find a way to exploit it for nefarious purposes.  In the case of apps, there is also an issue of privacy.  Often users agree to give up significant amounts of information in exchange for the ability to download and use the application.

Now we will focus on how to determine if an app is safe to download and use.  It’s also a good idea to ponder the difference between being an invasion of privacy, and being downright dangerous? Apps can be developed by anyone and submitted to the open market.  Apple is more stringent on their screening of the iPhone apps, but apps using the Android platform are not vetted for safety before being put on the market.  What this means for consumers is that an app may promise to provide the user with something helpful, like where to find the nearest pizzeria, but in reality it could be wreaking all types of havoc because the user, in order to install the app, has now given it the permissions it needs.

Things that can prove devastating to your phone and yourself you downloaded an app containing malicious code are:

  • Spyware: Spyware is a type of malware that could record the information on your phone and transmit it to a criminal server.  This includes things such as keylogging software which could be able to record your log-in and password to any websites or accounts to which you connect.
  • Phishing Software: Phishing is a term that means that information is requested for purposes other than what it will be used for.  For example, the password for your Facebook account shouldn’t be necessary for a GPS application. This information can be used to commit identity theft or be sold to the highest bidder.  These can also be links that redirect you to malicious websites, or attempt to “social engineer” you into providing credentials you should keep secure.
  • Virus: The term virus is a wide ranging term, but can include such threats as a takeover of your phones operating system or interact with your contacts without your knowledge.

This doesn’t mean that downloading an app is necessarily dangerous.  There are many very helpful and safe programs out there created by developers who want to help the general consumer.  As for the other, seedier, developers, there are a few ways you can avoid becoming their next victim:

  • Research the app: Before you download or install a new app, look at comments other people have left regarding the app.  Keep an eye out for direct discussion of malware or comments that the app did nothing once downloading. You can also do a simple Google search on the app and see if it has been associated with any security issues (Google search for “XYZ App problems.”
  • Look at the developer: An app will have information about the individual or company who created the app.  If the app is to enable a user to log directly into their yahoo email account, then it should be created by Yahoo.  Tricky developers will create an app that many consumers won’t think twice about downloading.
  • Review the requested permissions: Slow down, and read carefully!  The permissions requested for an app should be in line with what the app does.  There is no reason an application that offers information on local weather should need to have access permission to post on your Facebook page or your contacts.  If the permissions don’t make sense, then ask yourself why they would need that information.

While most of us never thought we would be able to order a pizza from a phone while driving down the freeway, this is now the reality.  These apps can be incredibly helpful, but users must remain cautious and alert in order to protect themselves.  The above steps should help do just that.

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.