Most of us will admit to never being far from our smartphone and using mobile apps for a large number of tasks on those phones. From checking the latest weather report to signing in to online banking platforms, we use mobile apps for the widest number of reasons. This means that there is great demand for the development of new apps. Yet the biggest problem with these apps is the security measures that need to be put in place to prevent hackers and malware infecting devices. So, what are some of the big problems at the moment and what steps have been taken to combat them?
The growth of the smartphone
The voracious appetite we have for apps has grown alongside the use of smartphones for many things in our lives. The last two years have seen the number of searches from smartphones exceeded the number from desktop devices for the first time. It has seen a shifting emphasis from names like Google away from desktop and towards mobile with measures such as rating the mobile-friendliness of websites.
This year, experts predict that over one-third of the world’s population will own a smartphone. But this popularity has also meant the area of apps has become a hot topic for those with illegal and nefarious intentions such as hackers and cyber criminals. And we, the consumer, can also be to blame as we ignore security warnings, override precautions and maintain the idea that smartphones are somehow automatically safer than desktop computers.
The biggest threats
One of the biggest threats to smartphones and mobile apps currently is mobile malware. This is an evolving area of malicious software that is designed solely to steal your personal data and also your money. There are lots of different ways that this software can gain a foothold in your device and different actions they can take when there.
Currently, premium rate SMS fraud is one of the main malware variations alongside different banking fraud schemes. According to ISTR data, Android phones are the biggest focus for these attacks. Part of this is due to the huge growth of Android apps and its market share. But even iOS isn’t immune despite the ‘walled garden’ approach that Apple uses towards locking devices that may have been hacked.
Social media is another way that hackers are using to gain access to people’s data. Fake offers are the most common form at the moment, everything from a fake event, a competition or even a free download of a piece of music or a game. Clever malware asks users to log into their accounts to gain these free items and then steals their data.
One of the newest additions to the hacker’s arsenal is called ransomware. This has already moved beyond the days of targeting a single user to obtain a payment to release a locked device. Next gen ransomware will infect hundreds of devices at one time, such as the attack on the San Francisco Municipal Transport Agency where 2000 systems were locked down at one time.
For app creators as well as users, the requirement to institute and use security measures is clear. One area that shows what can be done is the arena of online games. Many sites that record personal data and financial information now use similar levels of security to banking applications. This means that data is protected to the highest possible standard and deflects most all of the hackers attempts to steal information.
The actual code used in apps is being scrutinized as never before to ensure there are no vulnerabilities that hackers can exploit. Malicious code is responsible for problems on millions of devices at any one time around the world but app developers are now taking steps during the creation of the app to prevent anyone infiltrating and modifying the code. Steps such as the use of static and dynamic source code analysis are used at every stage of the development cycle to better secure the very makeup of the application.
What consumers can do
Unfortunately, we the smartphone users are one of the biggest vulnerabilities in the app cycle and therefore we must take steps to prevent hackers and malware. When you receive your new smartphone, there are a series of steps to take to enhance the security including:
- Use strong lock screen security such as a strong PIN, password or a fingerprint
- Log out of apps when you are not using them so if you lose your phone, someone can’t automatically use those apps
- Install a password manager that saves passwords and can generate strong passwords for you
- Consider using apps that allow you to add extra security layers to apps such as banking and games that contain financial information
- Add antivirus software on Android phones
- Always get apps from official app stores such as the Google Play Store or iTunes
- Never use secure apps on public networks where a hacker could access your details, such as at a café or restaurant
Sometimes despite the combined efforts of app developers and users, hackers get through and bad things happen. But by taking steps to ensure apps are strong and protected and that we put measures in place to protect smartphones, the risks are greatly reduced and we can all use our apps with confidence.