The New Threat: Malicious Apps on Your Smartphone

Getting into the new app craze on your smartphone? Be careful. Since BlackBerry does not have a unified app store (or forces you to shop theirs), the possibility of malicious apps getting onto your phone is real. The apps do not even need to hack your phone or exploit the system software to do real harm either. Neither is the problem limited to BlackBerrys. Windows Mobile seems to be having the biggest problems right now. Some apps available for the Windows Mobile devices call numbers in Africa when they think you are sleeping and rack up huge phone bills for overseas “services”. Google’s Android OS also has had problems, but the OS provider seems to have no problem simply deleting software right off of your phone without your permission.

SMobile’s Global Threat Center performed a study this year on how applications can bypass the BlackBerry’s security framework. Add this to the news that Research In Motion Ltd. (RIM) may start sharing your location in real-time (read here) like Apple has with its new iOS 4 and you should be a little worried. RIM screens all applications that it offers on its BlackBerry App Store, so software you purchase or get from there should be safe. The problem is third party sites that offer applications.

Besides the usual speech to only download things from places that you trust, here are some tips to ensure the safety of your data, and yourself:

-          Set the default permissions on your phone to be as restrictive as possible. This prevents malicious applications from using built-in API calls (requests to the OS to do something) that it could use to gather information about you. Also, do not set applications to “trust application” status, unless you know the software is legit.

-          Only shop for apps on stores you trust, like BlackBerry App World, or your carrier’s store if it has one.

-          Corporate users that are setup with BlackBerry’s Enterprise Server can ask their IT departments to set BlackBerry policies that prevent users from installing unknown apps or only grant certain permissions to trust apps.

-          If something seems too good to be true, it probably already is. Do not fall for something like “Free app that allows unlimited free VoIP calls to any landline or cell phone in the world.” Use common sense and do a little research before you install anything.

Worried about the fact that hackers are turning to smartphones now to steal information and money? Let me know what you think and how you protect yourself from malicious software on your BlackBerry.

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