Why Do Mobile Apps Require Access To Your Data?
Think of all the times you downloaded apps and then proceeded to click ‘yes’ or ‘accept’ to all the permissions they were requesting. Do you ever consider not allowing some of the permissions? Better yet, do you even read most of them?
Why Mobile Apps Require Access To Your Data?
Here’s what app permissions are and why mobile apps require access to your data.
App permissions are allowances that the user agrees to in order to let the app perform all of its functions. All the permissions have, in their description, the circumstances the app may be affecting.
When installing an application or an application update, you will get a pop-up with a list of all the permissions that it requires. For instance, permission to access your texts, photos, videos, phone call logs, etc. While apps need to be able to access certain content in order to accomplish their purpose, they might not need all the permissions they’re requesting.
Ideally, app permissions are there to ensure that software receives the information it needs in order to perform its job properly. When it presents the user with the required permissions, it’s showing that it has nothing to hide and is giving the user an insight into what the app is doing, and how it’s doing its job. This is true for system apps, apps from big names (ex. Google), and web-based mail or social media.
For instance, a messenger or email app would need permission to access ‘your personal information – read/write your contacts’. A mapping app would need ‘your precise location – GPS and network-based location’, and dialler apps would need ‘services that cost you money – directly call phone numbers’. These permissions are all legitimate as there’s a specific reason why mobile apps require access to your data.
However, some mobile apps’ permission lists contain requests to access data that doesn’t have much to do with the app’s purpose. Sometimes this is due to the app’s poor design, but more often it’s due to an ulterior motive, such as data-mining operations, or worse – fraud and identity theft. Permissions that let the app access more than it needs to are a great trick for installing malware and spyware, as well as hijacking systems.
It is important to be aware of the risks that might arise by handing out access to your device and its data since data is constantly being transmitted and received by mobile apps between phones and servers.
Here are some examples of potentially dangerous app permissions to avoid:
- ‘Your personal information – Modify/delete SD card contents’ – Since apps that have been granted this permission can read and alter documents on your device, they can also install malware.
- ‘Phone calls – read phone status and identity’ – lots of apps ask to access your IMEI number and abuse it. This number is the identifier used by your phone company to link your name and other personal information with your device.
- ‘Network communication – full network access’ – This lets apps upload and download what they require, but it can also be used to stream in advertising or to stream out data to third parties.
Skipping over app permissions could cause a potential security risk. You might be giving your data to data miners for all you know. Allowing apps to access more information on your phone than is actually necessary could disclose your personal information to third parties.
At the same time, danger can arise from the fact that some apps are poorly coded and have security issues. If an app doesn’t encrypt the data it’s sending, hackers and cybercriminals can access people’s personal details such as credit card numbers and passwords.
When using a free app, always consider how its developers are making money. In case you’re having trouble figuring out how an app is earning money, it might be that its monetization source is its users. In this case, apps might be reading their users’ contacts and other data and selling them to data collectors.
In the wrong hands, even some app permissions which might seem legitimate may be harmful. For instance, network-based location and GPS location lets apps retrieve the device’s approximate location, and app developers may use this in order to profit from ads that are location-based. This app’s permission can be abused since malicious apps may initiate location-based attacks.
Furthermore, when using web browsers on your phone, be cautious when accepting messages that might pop up. Users often agree to save their login details, so that they may log in easier in the future. However, while this makes it easier for you, it also makes it easier for anyone that’s trying to access your unprotected phone.
Saving your login name and password might not be so dangerous when it comes to some social media apps. However, when it’s an app that does online banking, it can be very dangerous to have your login info saved and your phone unprotected. Online banking apps have your bank account details, and if everything is saved automatically, it will be simply too easy for someone else to use your credit card and spend your money.
Moreover, it’s important to be on the lookout for security warnings that you might come across when visiting some websites. Do not dismiss these right away. All websites that deal with sensitive data should be using encrypted protocols in order to keep all the data safe. If the website has an ‘s’ at the start of its URL (https://) or a padlock icon on the browser’s status bar, this means that the website has an added layer of security and the connection is encrypted. When you’re using a page that asks for personal details, look for these two.
How To Stay Protected – App Permissions To Avoid
Now that you know what dangers are lurking out there, read on to find out how to keep your device and your personal details protected.
One thing you could do is read through all the information about the app that’s available in the app store before installing the application. This will include the Terms and Conditions, in which you could find out how the app will use your data and for what purposes), as well as the permissions list. You can also come across users’ reviews which can be helpful as well (especially if they warn you of a risky app before you install it).
When you read the list of permissions, use common sense to decide whether some apps really need to request some permissions or not. For instance, why should a collage maker need to be able to make phone calls?
Another thing you can do is to install security software for your mobile phone. Security software will help you evade dangers: it offers malware protection, spam protection, and firewall protection, and can also help you find your phone if it gets stolen or lost (if your phone has GPS).
You can also protect your data by locking your device remotely or erasing sensitive data in case you know the device has been stolen. Therefore, with adequate security software, the user stays in control of the device’s activity and can render the device useless for a thief.
Though phones mostly have built-in security, an antivirus can do much more for you. Good antivirus services will protect your passwords, secure online shopping, and online banking, locate and get rid of malware and other threats, keep spam out of your inbox, keep hackers out with a powerful firewall, automatically update software, etc.
A top antivirus service we recommend is McAfee.
McAfee is a praised name among antivirus programs. Both of its versions – free and paid – are excellent and won’t let down its users.
The app is easy, user-friendly and it won’t slow down your device. One concern users have when using AV software is battery life: with the McAfee app, the battery drain is insignificant.
The app is locked by a password that you set, and you can also make it so that the deletion of the app is not possible unless you type in the password first.
Some of the app’s features include Security Scan, Call & SMS Filter, Restore & Wipe, App Protection, Backup, Web Protection, and Lock Device.
The app can run scans that will search through all your apps, files, attachments, messages, etc. to see if there’s malware on your device. The McAfee app also has a great feature called App Protection. This feature searches the apps on your phone to figure out which ones access the most delicate information. It also monitors apps you might want to download and warns you of potential privacy issues.
Here’s what McAfee’s customer service page has to say about the App Protection feature:
‘This feature checks your mobile device apps and lets you know the types of personal data and device functions that they can access and change. For example, some applications can access your location, contacts, network, calendar, and passwords, while others can access your microphone, camera, or GPS.
With App Privacy, you get intelligent and up-to-date information about your apps, with easy-to-understand icons showing you the type of information each app can access on your device. This information enables you to keep applications you trust and remove those applications you think are sharing too much personal data.”
Here’s why McAfee is the best antivirus app for your phone:
- Device lock security
- Thief camera (takes a photo of the thief)
- Remotely wipes data
- Map location service
- Anti-theft uninstall protection
- Safeguard your online privacy under unsecured network
- Blocks access to risky websites
- Securely locks apps with sensitive content
- Phone support
- Media Upload
- No ads
- Controls which apps guests can see on your device
Additional Ways To Keep Your Phone Safe
Besides getting security software and being cautious with which apps you use, below are a few more ways to secure your phone:
- Use a PIN code: this might seem obvious, but many people don’t use PIN codes on their phones. Without a keycode, a stolen phone will allow access to anyone that gets hold of it. Avoid simple passwords like ‘password’ or ‘12345’.
- Protect sensitive data: most smartphones have software that encrypts files. This means entering a code before being able to view or copy a file.
- Watch the Wi-Fi connection: always switch off the Wi-Fi when it’s not in use. Not only does this help save battery life, but it also makes sure that malicious parties are not able to connect to your device without you knowing. Check your phone settings as well to see if it’s configured to connect automatically to Wi-Fi networks and disable this.
- Back up your data: A stolen or damaged phone usually means that you’re going to lose all your important documents, messages, contacts, and other data. However, if you regularly back up your phone, you won’t have to worry about losing your data. Some modern devices have an automatic backup facility.
Therefore, when you’re debating whether to download an app or not, make sure to first check out the information the app wants to access on your device. Don’t blindly accept app permissions, but instead consider whether the app actually needs the access it’s requesting.
It’s not only the bad coders or hackers who are to take the blame for the increased number of incidents, but also the users that don’t read the permissions when downloading apps. It’s important to read the permissions and not just skip over them in order to get the app running as quickly as possible.
If you want more security, opt for an antivirus service for your phone. It will protect your passwords, get rid of malware and other threats, and so much more. A great option is McAfee, whose App Protection feature will monitor the apps you have and the apps you want to download, as well as warn you of any privacy issues.