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100,000 Apps Identified as Suspicious

Approximately 25 percent of all apps on Google Play pose security risks to mobile device users, according to a new report from security firm Bit9.

Of the more than 400,000 Android applications examined, over 100,000 of those apps were deemed suspicious. Bit9 wrote that “when considering the average mobile device has 41 apps installed on it, potentially 10 apps could have some level of suspicious activity.”

According to the report, applications that were viewed as “questionable” or “suspicious” included the permissions requested by the application, categorization of the application, user rating, number of downloads, and the reputation of the application’s publisher.

“A significant percentage of Google Play apps have access to potentially sensitive and confidential information,” said Harry Sverdlove, chief technology officer, Bit9. “When a seemingly basic app such as wallpaper requests access to GPS data, this raises a red flag. Likewise, more than a quarter of the apps can access emails and contacts unbeknown to the phone user, which is of great concern when these devices are used in the workplace.”

When outlining their methodology, Bit9 said they classified the apps into three categories: green (highly trusted), yellow (less trusted, but not likely to be malicious) or red (suspicious and potentially unsafe).

Examples of the breakdown are:

  • Apps that are widely popular and created by trusted sources like Microsoft would be considered as safe, or green.
  • Free apps developed by lesser known publishers, but still popular would be considered yellow. These types of apps tend to access permissions outside of its intended uses.
  • Apps, or personalization apps, like custom wallpaper from an unknown publisher would be deemed as red. These types of apps can access personal information such as email, or can send premium SMS messages.

According to Bit9, the security firm found that 72 percent use at least one high-risk permission. Other findings from the report include:

  • 42 percent of apps access GPS location data (wallpaper, games and utilities)
  • 31 percent access phone calls or phone numbers
  • 26 percent access personal data (contacts and email)
  • 9 percent use permissions that costs the user money

However, not only do the questionable apps pose a threat to mobile device users, but to the enterprise networks to which they connect as well. While 71 percent of the businesses surveyed said they do allow their employees to bring their own device, only 24 percent said they actually have some sort of app monitoring in place.

According to the report, this means companies have “little – or no – insight into what apps are running on their employees’ devices.” Essentially, enterprises would have no way of knowing if their networks were in danger from a malicious app.

Of the IT security executives surveyed:

  • 78 percent feel phone makers do not focus on security enough, yet 71 percent continue to allow their employees to bring their own device.
  • 68 percent said security is of the upmost concern, yet 24 percent don’t employ any sort of application control or monitoring.

Although most of the respondents say security is important to them, only 37 percent have actually deployed any form of malware protection on employee-owned devices. According to Bit9, these results “spotlight an interesting – and disturbing – policy contradiction.” Bit9 says that for companies, convenience, and not security is what drives the growing trend to allow BYOD policies.

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