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Large numbers of Android apps vulnerable to security threats

Bit9 : 05 November, 2012  (Technical Article)
Google Play store survey shows over 100,000 Android apps with questionable security, bringing BYOD suitability into question according to Bit9
Large numbers of Android apps vulnerable to security threats

Bit9 has released a new research report showing that more than 100,000 Android applications in the Google Play store pose a security risk to mobile device users and the enterprise networks to which they connect.  In the most comprehensive research project of its kind, Bit9 examined the security permissions of more than 400,000 Android applications. The company focused on Google Play applications because more smartphones today run Android than any other operating system.

Criteria for defining an application as “questionable” or “suspicious” included the permissions requested by the application, categorisation of the application, user rating, number of downloads, and the reputation of the application’s publisher.  In its examination of the more than 400,000 Android apps, Bit9 found that 72 per cent use at least one high-risk permission.  In addition, the company found that:

* 42 per cent of applications access GPS location data, and these include wallpapers, games and utilities
* 31 per cent access phone calls or phone numbers
* 26 per cent access personal data, such as contacts and email
*  9 per cent use permissions that can cost the user money

This report follows previous Bit9 research on the most vulnerable mobile devices.

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

In addition to this comprehensive research, Bit9 conducted a survey of IT security decision makers who collectively influence mobile device usage policy for more than 400,000 employees.  Almost three quarters of those surveyed said their organisation allows employees to bring your own device (BYOD) to work and access company email, calendar and scheduling—a risky decision given the significant percentage of applications Bit9 found with access permissions to these programs.  Of the IT security decision makers surveyed:

* 78 per cent feel phone makers do not focus enough on security
* But 71 per cent allow employees to bring their own smartphones to the workplace
* 68 per cent rank security as their most important concern when deciding whether to allow employees to bring their personal devices to work
* But only 24 per cent of companies employ any sort of application control or monitoring to know what applications are running on employees' mobile devices
* Only 37 per cent have deployed any form of malware protection on employee-owned devices
* 84 per cent of respondents believe iOS is more secure than Android.

These results spotlight an interesting—and disturbing—policy contradiction:  While the majority of organisations allow employees to bring their personal devices to work and connect to the company network, the organisations have little visibility into the privacy and security risks the mobile applications on the devices pose to the companies' networks. sConvenience, and not security, drives the growing trend to allow BYOD policies. sThe survey highlights a clear call to action for companies to realise that when employees access company data from a smart device, their intellectual property is being put at risk.

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