How to Check If an App Is Safe to Install
Keeping Smartphones, Tablets and Computers Safe
Everyone needs to know what steps to take to determine whether a mobile app is safe to download. Mobile phones are expensive and contain massive amounts of personal information. Even the most reputable app stores can not guarantee that every app is safe. Responsible consumers can learn how to mitigate this risk.
Apps can contain malware or be the engine for malicious activity. In plain English, some apps tap into your phone and steal sensitive data. Your phone can even become controlled by people with nefarious intents. Downloading an infected app could turn your device into a bot.
If your device becomes a robot under the control of some groups, they can use your device as a part of larger attacks. Not only can these people get your info, they can make your device a part of their botnet army.
Raising awareness about app security is important. People you know may believe that just because an app is on the Google Play Store or the Apple App Store it is safe. Users have more choices than, and no app store is free of malicious apps.
It's time to learn about the characteristics of a trustworthy app. Don't be afraid to make app security discussion for the round table. Parents need to be vigilant and teach children about app safety.
Know Your Source
The safest route to find apps is to download from reputable markets. Navigating through today's consumer driven open mobile ecosystem isn't easy. It's plagued by a widespread lack of law and order. Apps can be downloaded from an app store or side-loaded with a direct USB connection. Even when downloading from within an app store, it's not uncommon to bump into third-party apps.
Don't download apps impulsively. Instead, take the time to get to know your source. Marketplaces provide an aggregation for apps, including third-party. They offer first-party apps, made by the vendor of your phone. They also offer third-party apps, made by someone other than the phone manufacturers.
Download third-party apps expand the relationship between you and the phone developer. The new relationship is between you, the phone maker, and the maker of the app. For each app you download, you add more cooks to the kitchen.
How do you know if an app marketplace is trustworthy?
Some characteristics of a safe marketplace are:
- Terms of service that is well developed.
- Clear contact information and a troubleshooting FAQ.
- Strict app developer criteria.
- A history of removing vendors with poor content.
What about downloading apps outside of the app store?
App stores provide consumers with added layers of security. Even though not every app on app stores is safe, there is far less chance of running into issues on app markets.
Downloading apps outside of the marketplaces is referred to as side-loading. Bypassing reliable app markets is dangerous. There is a reason these apps can not be found in app stores.
Apps withing Google Play and the Apple App store are screened for legitimacy, quality, safety, and many other factors. Apps outside of markets are more likely to be infected with malicious programming.
Learn About the Vendor or Developer
Learn more about the vendor and/or developer before installing an app. The vendor is the entity that supplies the app to the consumer.
Many app stores link to the vendors' web page. On the Google Play store, this is found at the bottom of the app's page. If there is no link, or the link doesn't work, then look them up in a search engine. It's up to consumers to do their homework. Reputable app developers are easy to research.
Some questions to ask about app vendors are:
- Do they have a professional website?
- How is information collected and used?
- What information is available to advertisers?
- What is the policy for disclosure of personal information?
- Does the vendor have clear security policies?
- Is there clear contact information?
Apps should not have too many permissions. The ones they do have should be appropriate to the app. Permissions give the vendor of the app access to various parts of your phone. It's obvious that apps need to interact with the phone. However, they should only interact with the systems necessary for the intent of the app.
Apps are going to be around for a long time. Consumers need to understand permissions to know when app vendors are crossing the line. Do not install an app when an app maker is overstepping their bounds.
An app with a long list of permissions should send up a red flag. When an app's permissions seem unnecessary to the functioning of an app, then you may need to think twice before downloading it.
Examples of permissions an app might ask for:
- Full network access
- Prevent tablet from sleeping
- Run at startup
- Control vibration
- Take pictures and videos
- Read text messages
- Modify or delete SD card contents
These are just a few things that apps can do. Some permissions give apps access to messages, phone call logs, and access to other personal information. Before agreeing to permission ask yourself if the app really needs the ability to interact in that way. If you're downloading a crossword app, do they really need access to the camera? Does a cooking game really need access to your messages?
Only download apps that respect the users right to privacy. The fewer permissions apps request, the more likely that it is safe.
Know the Numbers
Users need to pay attention to are the number of times downloaded and the app rating. These numbers indicate the degree to which an app performs. They are milestones used to gauge trustworthiness.
If an app that has been downloaded more than 10 million times, then it is likely to be safe. The more an app is downloaded, the more opportunity for the app vendor to gain trust. Apps with high volumes of downloads are time tested and customer approved.
This doesn't mean you shouldn't download apps with fewer downloads. But you should spend extra time inspecting the permissions and investigating the vendor.
User rating is another way to tell if an app is safe. Be cautious about apps with low ratings. If the download to rating ratio doesn't make sense, then think twice before getting the app.
User Behavior Poll
How often do you review or rate apps?
Reading reviews is a good way to see how others feel about apps. Don't make your mind up solely based off reviews. Not all reviews should be weighted equally. Watch out for reviews that don't seem real.
If you pay close attention, it becomes easy to pick out real reviews. Great apps have lots of great reviews from real users. They will have some complaints, as well. The quality of the reviews gives consumers insight into the quality of the app.
Now that apps are a part of everyday life, it is time to give apps more thought. With time it becomes easy to learn to identify safe, quality apps. Not only do we need to know how to find download-worthy apps, it's important to teach our kids and/or parents to do the same.
Knowledge is a powerful tool for consumers. Collect as much as you can, and encourage others to do the same. If you do run into an app that you think is malicious, then contact the app store where you downloaded it. If you run into a great app, don't be afraid to rate it well and leave a review.
© 2017 Jade Griffin