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'App Genome Project' Exposes Potential Smartphone Risks
Researchers from Lookout will present their findings thus far in study of freebie Android, iPhone apps
Android smartphone applications typically don't have as much access to private information, such as location and contact lists, as many iPhone apps do, but they're more likely to contain potentially dangerous third-party code, according to a sneak peek at new research that will be revealed at Black Hat USA this week.
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One Android wallpaper app sends the user's phone number to the developer, for example.
Meanwhile, close to half of Android apps (47 percent) come with third-party code -- mainly for advertising or analytics purposes -- that can access sensitive smartphone data, exposing other security and privacy risks, according to the App Genome Project. About 23 percent of freebie iPhone apps have the same problem, the researchers say.
But the researchers say their data doesn't conclude that one smartphone is more secure than the other. "Each platform has different security measures that we believe will drive how and where the risks in each platform develop," says Kevin Mahaffey, co-founder and CTO at Lookout.
The smartphone project focuses on free apps found in the Android Market and the iPhone App Store. Lookout reported last month more than twice the number of malware and spyware programs were hitting BlackBerry, Windows Mobile, and Android phones versus six months ago.
Lookout says the iPhone's permission model makes it easier for third-party code to shape the app's features. For an Android app to interact with the user's address book, it would need to implement both the third-party code and request permission from the operating system to get to the contacts, the researchers say.
"The major differences are Android's use of a permission-based model and a community-enforced marketplace versus Apple's less-granular permission model and curated marketplace," Mahaffey says. "Specifically, Android gives users insight into the data accessed by applications they download so they can make security and privacy decisions. Apple, on the other hand, reviews the appropriateness of data access by applications when they are submitted to the App Store: For example, applications are not to access location if they only do so for advertising purposes."
Some recommendations for Smartphone users from Lookout:
1. Only download applications from trusted sources. Check out the number of downloads and recommendations for the app. Run a security app on your phone for checking downloads.
2. Download updates for apps regularly, especially banking and payment apps
3. Be careful when logging into apps that access sensitive data.
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