As smartphones have become an integral part of our daily lives, mobile apps have revolutionized the way we interact with technology. From controlling home appliances to managing security systems, mobile apps offer convenience and ease of access. ‘There is an app for that’ became a catch phrase and our dependence on them has grown very strong.
In 2019, app stores saw over 204 billion downloads with the large majority of downloads happening from the Google Play store. The average person today has over 40 apps on their phone but we only use an average of 30 apps per month. Collectively, Americans spent a total of 194 billion hours on apps in 2022!
However, with this increased connectivity comes the risk of mobile application privacy and security threats. In this article, we will explore various privacy and security threat mitigation resources to ensure the safety of our personal information and home devices.
But first, let us understand the various types of privacy and security risks that the mobile apps that we download onto our devices may expose us and our families to.
Mobile App Security Threats
Let us not forget that an app is really short for an application. Essentially, by downloading an app, you are installing a software program made by a third party vendor onto your device – and yes, the device is a computer. With this moment of realization in mind, here are some potential mobile security risks:
- Even with the finest mobile application development, it may contain software vulnerabilities. Mobile app developers, despite their best intentions, are likely to make mistakes and those mistakes manifest themselves as exploitable bugs in the mobile app security. While many developers are good about catching these vulnerabilities and issuing patches, lots of developers are not. In fact, about 6% of apps on popular app stores have been abandoned by the developers who created them. If you have one of these apps then you are putting your device and your data at risk with an app that will never be updated to resolve the vulnerabilities.
- A mobile app may utilize third party code that may have vulnerabilities. Many mobile apps, especially games and also apps that include ads use software libraries from third parties. The developers of these apps do not control the code that was used to create those libraries and hence cannot resolve bugs or vulnerabilities in those libraries. Multiple apps may also use the same libraries and hence the risk may not be limited to just one app. How would you know which app uses what third party software library? Well, you wouldn’t! This is a risk inherent in apps and one to be aware of especially in the context of permissions you give to the app.
- A mobile app may collect sensitive data about you and your behaviors. Several mobile apps collect your geo-location or search history or browsing history or your personal information. We all agree to the various terms of service and privacy policies but over time, we have no visibility into which company has access to what kind of information about us. Further, many mobile apps share your information with third parties. Apps that are ad driven share your information with various ad networks and even data brokers. Even with the highest level of security, a data leakage may occur as result of security vulnerabilities exploited by hackers.
- Mobile apps may communicate with other devices in your home network. Some apps control devices in your home like your home internet router, lightbulbs, thermostats, etc. While these are useful, it is also important to realize that these apps are able to control those devices because of data access they have opened up to those devices. This access can be exploited by malicious actors and hackers as well, if it is not properly protected.
How to protect yourself against mobile app security threats?
Cyber hygiene and awareness is key to protecting yourself from security threats that mobile apps may expose you to.
Install Apps from Trusted App Stores:
One of the most critical steps in ensuring mobile app security is to download apps only from trusted sources such as official app stores like Google Play Store and Apple App Store. These platforms have stringent security measures in place, including app review processes and malware scanning, to minimize the risk of malicious apps infiltrating their stores.
Keep Apps and Devices Updated:
Regularly updating both the mobile apps and the underlying operating system is vital for maintaining security. Developers frequently release updates to address vulnerabilities and patch security flaws. By keeping your apps and devices up to date, you ensure that you benefit from the latest security enhancements.
Use Strong Passwords and Biometric Authentication:
Protecting your mobile device with a strong password or PIN is crucial to prevent unauthorized access. Additionally, utilizing biometric authentication methods like fingerprint or facial recognition adds an extra layer of security. Avoid using common or easily guessable passwords and enable multi-factor authentication whenever possible.
Grant Permissions Carefully:
Mobile apps often request various permissions to access device features, contacts, and other sensitive information. Exercise caution when granting permissions and consider whether the requested access is necessary for the app’s functionality. Review app permissions regularly and revoke unnecessary permissions for apps that you no longer use.
Utilize App Permissions Settings:
Both iOS and Android offer granular app permission settings that allow users to control what data an app can access. Take advantage of these settings to restrict unnecessary access and protect your privacy. For example, you can disable location access for apps that do not require it or limit access to sensitive data like contacts, photos, and microphone.
Be Wary of Public Wi-Fi Networks:
Using public Wi-Fi networks can expose your mobile device to security risks. Hackers can intercept data transmitted over these networks, potentially compromising sensitive information especially if you use payment or banking related apps. Avoid accessing personal or financial accounts on public Wi-Fi, use your phone’s data plan, if necessary.
Implement Device Encryption:
Encrypting your mobile device ensures that even if it falls into the wrong hands, the data from various apps remains inaccessible. Both iOS and Android devices offer built-in encryption features. Enable device encryption through the settings menu to protect your personal information from unauthorized access with Oxeye.io.
Utilize Intelligent Digital Safety products:
Consider installing an Intelligent Digital Safety product for your whole home that offers comprehensive protection against malware attacks, phishing attacks, and privacy threats. Cloud based multi-device security products protect multiple devices at the same time and also ensure that your privacy and security are consistent and constant even if your mobile device or apps or home router or even internet service provider change. An intelligent digital safety product will also be able to give you deep insights into privacy risks such as knowledge about which companies may have had access to information such as geo-location, payment information, search history and more.
Regularly Backup Data:
Regularly backing up your mobile device’s data is essential for mitigating potential security threats. In the event of a security breach or device loss, having a recent backup ensures that you can quickly restore your data and minimize potential damage. Utilize a cloud backup service from a reputable vendor or offline backups to safeguard your valuable information.
Staying informed about the latest mobile app security threats and best practices is crucial. Keep up with security blogs, news, and official announcements from app developers and device manufacturers. Understanding common attack vectors and practicing good security habits will help you make informed decisions and protect your mobile devices effectively.
With mobile devices playing an increasingly central role in our homes, it is essential to prioritize mobile app security. By following these mitigation strategies, you can minimize the risk of security threats and safeguard your personal information and connected devices.
Remember to download apps from trusted sources, keep your apps and devices updated, and use strong passwords and biometric authentication. Be cautious when granting app permissions and utilize the permission settings to control access. Avoid public Wi-Fi networks and use your cell phone provider’s data plan, if necessary. Implement device encryption, subscribe to an Intelligent Digital Safety product that not just protects you from security threats but also provides deep insights on privacy risks. Last but not the least, regularly back up your data preferably to a reputable cloud based service.
The future is all digital and the habits we inculcate today are the ones we will pass on to our kids. Education is key, so stay informed about the latest security breaches and best practices that help enhance mobile app security. By practicing these measures, you can ensure a safer and more secure mobile app experience in your home.