Risk Mgt: Android Apps Show Threat

Monday, November 5, 2012 @ 03:11 PM gHale

Android apps have potential for security risks as a solid majority of the over 400,000 Android apps examined in the Google Play store pose a potential threat to mobile-device users, according to new research.

These Android apps are “questionable” or “suspicious” because they could gain access to personal information to collect GPS data, phone calls or phone numbers and much more after the user granted “permission” to the app, according to research by security provider Bit9.

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“You have to say ‘yes’ to the application or it won’t run,” said Harry Sverdlove, Bit9 CTO. Along those lines, games, entertainment and wallpaper apps seem to be pulling data, even though the functions would seem to have little direct use for it.

That does not mean these apps are malware, but they could do damage if compromised because the user has granted so much permission, Bit9 researchers said.

There are about 600,000 apps in Google Play, and Sverdlove said Bit9 is now compiling a “reputation” database of Android apps. The firm is also going to move on to other app stores, including Apple and Amazon, in order to create mobile security products that can protect users based on risk-scoring of apps.

Reputation-based approaches are more common throughout the security industry for protecting Web users against things like malware-infested sites, and now there’s interest in applying similar ideas to analyzing risk associated with mobile apps.

Here is how Bit9 categorized these “questionable” and “suspicious” apps it found in Google Play:
• 42% access GPS location data, and these include wallpapers, games and utilities
• 31% access phone calls or phone numbers
• 26% access personal data, such as contacts and email
• 9% use permissions that can cost the user money

Of the 412,222 Android apps evaluated from Google Play, Bit9 said more than 290,000 of them access at least one high-risk permission, 86,000 access five or more and 8,000 apps access 10 or more permissions “flagged as potentially dangerous.” It defined risk level according to relative degrees of privacy intrusion and the app’s feature set, perhaps the ability to wipe devices or change systems settings.

In addition, the study also included a survey of 138 IT professionals responsible for mobile security for over 400,000 users in their organizations. Some of the results included:
1. 78% think phone makers do not focus enough on security, but 71% allow employee-owned devices to access their organization’s network.
2. 24% deploy some form of app monitoring or control to grant visibility into employees’ devices.
3. 84% feel Apple iOS is “more secure” than Android and 93% of respondents allow iOS to access their network.

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