Better processing speeds and loads of memory allow us to load dozens of games & apps onto our phones. Often, we’ll do so without thinking since we trust the stores our phones insist on using to weed out the bad stuff. Should you place all your trust in them, though? Join us as we peek inside the world’s largest app collections and see if any safety concerns you have are warranted.
An Unsafe Playground?
Security-conscious smartphone users rightfully wonder whether the app stores they use have their best interests at heart. After all, it’s impossible to catch every malicious or poorly coded app when you’re hosting and vetting millions of them.
The two main legitimate sources – Apple’s App Store & the Google Play Store – both have policies that should safeguard users. Any app submitted to undergo an approval process involving manual testing and ensuring it satisfies other rigorous testing criteria. It’s unlikely that an outright scam or overt malware will pass either store’s inspection.
Users and experts consider the App Store to be safer. Its vetting process is more thorough, resulting in fewer apps being available. Google Play has a broader selection, but it also offers more free apps that developers need to pay a one-time fee to publish.
What Risks Do Supposedly Trustworthy Apps Bring?
Both stores filter and remove obviously harmful apps reasonably well. However, an app’s design doesn’t need to be intentionally malicious for it to pose a risk.
For example, it’s not uncommon for developers to stop working on an app without removing it from a store. Regular patching is the only means of catching and preventing exploits. Without it, any user who downloads the app leaves themselves vulnerable to attacks that exploit known weaknesses.
There’s also the matter of privacy and data protection. Several governments consider TikTok to be a privacy risk. Some don’t allow government employees to install the social media platform on their phones or advocate for an outright ban.
Many security risks associated with otherwise benevolent apps are due to poor development practices. The coding might be shoddy, or they might not use the best encryption methods. Some apps don’t uphold cybersecurity practices well enough. For example, they might not follow password best practices, resulting in logins that are easy to crack.
There’s also the matter of overprivileging. An app needs only so many permissions to function. Anything about that is suspicious and more prone to abuse or breach since it’s not the app’s main focus. A music editing app has no business asking to view your contacts or any content outside the media library.
How to Protect Your Phone from Suspicious Apps?
Figuring out if an app has bad intentions is challenging, especially if it made it onto a legitimate store. Even so, here’s what you can do to keep your phone, data, and privacy safe.
Install a VPN
VPNs are the go-to online privacy solution, but they’re also excellent protection from unknown app threats. You’re encrypting and protecting the entire connection by using one, so hackers can’t use backdoors to intercept and steal your information.
Some VPNs also offer built-in malware protection and ad blocking. Turning such features on minimizes the chances of infection by malware, an unsafe app might get you to download. By seeing fewer ads, you’ll also be less tempted to download sketchy or predatory apps.
Inform yourself about an app before downloading it
Getting the feel of an app takes only minutes, yet it can save you a ton of stress. Never blindly install an app, even if it’s popular with thousands of ratings. Developers sometimes pad the reviews or incentivize users to leave positive ones.
Pay attention to both sides of the coin. Short or generic positive reviews don’t say much and might even be fake. People might express negative ones due to features they want to see or a bad refund experience, so they’re not a clear indicator either. Try to find reviews by independent tech sites or ones that voice security concerns before downloading.
Keep the Phone Updated
Crooks keep coming up with exploits and workarounds that endanger your phone and its contents. Running the latest OS and app versions along with up-to-date antivirus & antimalware protection is the way to go.
Don’t neglect your passwords
Password security for all accounts should be high on your list. Don’t leave creating new ones for individual apps, especially since password managers offer a comprehensive solution for all your needs. They only ask you to remember a master password but can come up with, store, or update hundreds of unique and long passwords on mobile or desktop.
Secure password generation and two-factor authentication are the features to look for. The former prevents reusing duplicates, making each new password long and tough to brute force. The latter keeps your accounts safe even with a compromised password, stopping unauthorized logins and letting you switch to a secure new one.
Originality and general quality notwithstanding, the vast majority of apps you’ll encounter on the App Store and Google Play adhere to standards that let you use them safely and responsibly. Some bad apples slip through the cracks even so. Not trusting every app implicitly, following good cybersecurity practices, and practicing due diligence before installing new apps will ensure your privacy and safety remain undisturbed.