Feeds

How many mobile apps collect data on users? Oh ... nearly all of them

Free or paid, Android or iOS, your apps are spying on YOU – report

Build a business case: developing custom apps

Could the apps you have installed on your mobile phone be snooping on you? Based on the latest data from app security analytics firm Appthority, it's not merely possible; it's actually more than likely, particularly if you downloaded those apps for free.

According to Appthority's Winter 2014 App Reputation Report, released this week, 95 per cent of the top 200 free apps for iOS and Android exhibited at least one risky behavior. But so did 80 per cent of the top 200 paid apps, meaning pretty much all apps should be considered suspect.

The so-called risky behaviors Appthority identified in its study included location tracking, accessing the device's address book or contact list, single sign-on via social networks, identifying the user or the phone's unique identifier (UDID), in-app purchases, and sharing data with ad networks and analytics companies.

After analyzing the code of the top 200 free and paid apps on iOS and Android, Appthority concluded that all of these categories were commonplace, but the riskiest ones were particularly prevalent among free apps.

For example, 70 per cent of free apps tracked the user's location, compared to just 44 per cent of the paid apps studied. Similarly, more than half of all of the free apps used social network sign-ons, identified the user, offered in-app purchasing, or shared user data with ad networks – any of which could easily be abused by malicious apps. Less than half of paid apps displayed each of these behaviors.

The study did show variation between the two platforms. Notably, free Android apps were more likely to exhibit risky behaviors across every category than were free iOS apps.

One surprising finding, however, was that iOS apps were actually more likely to do suspect things overall. The survey found that 91 per cent of all iOS apps, free and paid, exhibited at least one risky behavior. The figure was only 83 per cent for Android apps as a whole. But that doesn't mean Android apps are generally safer, as the report explains:

What's important to note here is that although more iOS apps collect user data than Android apps, the Android apps that do collect data capture more information than their iOS counterparts. In other words, a larger percentage of iOS apps collect some data but the data collected by these apps is less than the data collected by Android apps when they do collect data.

Still, some iOS developers are doing sneaky things. While Apple forbids iOS apps from directly accessing UDIDs, for example, Appthority identified a number of apps that have managed to get around this restriction by implementing new ways of uniquely identifying and tracking users.

And while there's a persistent myth that games are generally more risky than non-game apps, Appthority's study showed that this isn't really the case, with non-game and business apps just as likely to do dodgy things.

Paid apps were generally safer than free ones, but even these demonstrated enough suspect behaviors that IT departments shouldn't consider an app safe just because it costs money.

So how do companies stay safe, particularly in today's "mobile first," "bring your own device" world? Tricky, that. Unsurprisingly, Appthority sells a service that allows companies to compare what's on their workers mobes with a database of analyzed apps. But preventing users from installing any risky apps is going to be a tall order.

"Gone are the days where software came into the enterprise from a few, trusted developers," the report observes. The full report is available for download here. ®

The essential guide to IT transformation

More from The Register

next story
Rupert Murdoch says Google is worse than the NSA
Mr Burns vs. The Chocolate Factory, round three!
e-Borders fiasco: Brits stung for £224m after US IT giant sues UK govt
Defeat to Raytheon branded 'catastrophic result'
Germany 'accidentally' snooped on John Kerry and Hillary Clinton
Dragnet surveillance picks up EVERYTHING, USA, m'kay?
Snowden on NSA's MonsterMind TERROR: It may trigger cyberwar
Plus: Syria's internet going down? That was a US cock-up
Who needs hackers? 'Password1' opens a third of all biz doors
GPU-powered pen test yields more bad news about defences and passwords
Think crypto hides you from spooks on Facebook? THINK AGAIN
Traffic fingerprints reveal all, say boffins
Microsoft cries UNINSTALL in the wake of Blue Screens of Death™
Cache crash causes contained choloric calamity
prev story

Whitepapers

Endpoint data privacy in the cloud is easier than you think
Innovations in encryption and storage resolve issues of data privacy and key requirements for companies to look for in a solution.
Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Top 8 considerations to enable and simplify mobility
In this whitepaper learn how to successfully add mobile capabilities simply and cost effectively.
Solving today's distributed Big Data backup challenges
Enable IT efficiency and allow a firm to access and reuse corporate information for competitive advantage, ultimately changing business outcomes.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.