The Latest Game App Might Be a Threat

Smartphones, tablets, and other mobile devices have certainly made our lives easier, more connected, and just more fun. And with an estimated 2 billion people worldwide expected to rely on at least one form of a mobile device by the end of the year, there’s no shortage of people using apps.

Apps, of course, are all the different programs that power our devices. Depending on the apps that consumers choose to download, every single mobile device is basically an entirely unique computer that works only the way its owner wants it to. The ability to select free and inexpensive—yet still very powerful and productive—apps to customize our devices is what makes smartphones and tablets so innovative.

Unfortunately, the very thing that makes apps so great is also what makes them so dangerous. For most consumers, apps come from one of two places: the Apple App Store for iPhone and iPad users, or the Google Play store for Android users. However, Android users have a hidden danger that Apple users don’t face quite as readily, and that’s the so-called “third-party” app stores. Apple doesn’t allow its devices to download content from outside websites, at least not without the user doing something called “jailbreaking,” which voids its warranty. But anyone can set up a website and sell apps that work on Android devices; some of these other stores are well-known, like Amazon’s app store, since its Kindle Fire tablet is powered by Android. However, there are some very shady third-party websites operating from around the world that offer Android apps, and those can be very unsecure.

Apple, for its part, has a stringent process for submitting an app for sale. If a small company creates a new game, for example, they must submit the app and all of its particulars to Apple for inspection before the app will go live. The same is true of Google Play, and even Amazon; an app developer must write the app for Android and submit it for approval.

It’s these third-party sites that consumers have to be especially careful of. Some of the sites simply don’t have the same inspection process, while still others are actively spreading malicious software disguised as Android apps. Many of these dangerous apps are actually knockoffs of the latest hot game app. While they may or may not actually work as a game, there’s a very real chance that they’re also rooting around in your device, looking for sensitive information and accessing your contacts so they can spread the virus to those users as well.

So how do you get to enjoy the full capability and fun that comes from a mobile device, while still protecting yourself?

First, make sure the apps you download are coming from vetted sources. If you want an app that isn’t available in your app store, think twice before downloading it from an untrusted site. Also, take a look through the Terms of Service before downloading, and be sure to read the app’s reviews. Finally, look at the permissions that the app requests before downloading. Even in the well-known app stores, content can get through that poses serious safety or security risks due to the type of access it wants from your device. If the app wants access to your Gmail account, your photos, your geo-location, or your social media accounts, ask yourself why that type of access is necessary. If in doubt, don’t download.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.


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