2 months ago Juniper Networks, one of the two biggest network equipment manufactures, published a blog post (1) about an intensive research their mobile threat department had on the Android market place.
In essence they analyzed over 1.7 million apps in Google Play, revealing frightening results and prompting a hard reality check for all of us.
One of the worrying findings is that a significant number of applications contain capabilities that could expose sensitive information to 3rd parties. For example, neither Apple nor Google requires apps to ask permission to access some forms of the device ID, or to send it to outsiders. A Wall Street Journal examination (2) of 101 popular Android (and iPhone) apps found that showed that 56 — that's half — of the apps tested transmitted the phone's unique device ID to other companies without users' awareness or consent. 47 apps — again, almost a half — transmitted the phone's location to other companies.
That means that the apps installed in your phone are 50% likely to clandestinely collect and sell information about you without your knowledge nor your consent. For example when you give permission to an app to see your location, most apps don't disclose if they will pass the location to ad companies.
Moving on to more severe Android vulnerabilities. Many applications perform functions not needed for the apps to work — and they do it under the radar! The lack of transparency about who is collecting information and how it is used is a big problem for us.
Juniper warns, that some apps request permission to clandestinely initiate outgoing calls, send SMS messages and use a device camera. An application that can clandestinely initiate a phone call could be used to silently listen to ambient conversations within hearing distance of a mobile device. I am of course talking about the famous and infamous US Navy PlaceRaider (3).
Thankfully the Navy hasn't released this code but who knows if someone hadn't already jumped on the wagon and started making their own pocket sp?. CIO magazine (4) somewhat reassures us though, that the "highly curated nature of [smartphone] application stores makes it far less likely that such an app would "sneak through" and be available for download."
A summary by The Register (5) of the Juniper Networks audit reads that Juniper discovered that free applications are five times more likely to track user location and a whopping 314 percent more likely to access user address books than paid counterparts. 314%!!!
1 in 40 (2.64%) of free apps request permission to send text messages without notifying users, 5.53 per cent of free apps have permission to access the device camera and 6.4 per cent of free apps have permission to clandestinely initiate background calls. Who knows, someone might just be recording you right now, or submitting your photo to some covert database in Czech Republic — without you even knowing that your personal identity is being compromised.
Google, by the way, is the biggest data recipient — so says The Wall Street Journal. Its AdMob, AdSense, Analytics and DoubleClick units collected data from 40% of the apps they audited. Google's main mobile-ad network is AdMob, which lets advertisers target phone users by location, type of device and "demographic data," including gender or age group.
To quote the The Register on the subjec, the issue of mobile app privacy is not new. However Juniper's research is one of the most comprehensive looks at the state of privacy across the entire Google Android application ecosystem. Don't get me wrong. I love using Google's services and I appreciate the positive effect this company has had over how I live my life. However, with a shady reputation like Google's and with it's troubling attitude towards privacy (Google Maps/Earth, Picasa's nonexistent privacy and the list goes on) I sincerely hope that after reading this you will at least think twice before installing any app.
Links: (please excuse my links I'm a new user and cannot post links)
(1) forums.juniper net/t5/Security-Mobility-Now/Exposing-Your-Personal-Information-There-s-An-App-for-That/ba-p/166058
(2) online.wsj com/article/SB10001424052748704694004576020083703574602.html
(3) technologyreview com/view/509116/best-of-2012-placeraider-the-military-smartphone-malware-designed-to-steal-your-life/
(4) cio com/article/718580/PlaceRaider_Shows_Why_Android_Phones_Are_a_Major_S ecurity_Risk?page=2&taxonomyId=3067
(5) theregister co.uk/2012/11/01/android_app_privacy_audit/
Now I am proposing a discussion. Starting with - do we have the possibility to monitor device activity on the phone? By monitoring device activity, such as outgoing SMSs and phone calls in the background, the camera functions and so on we can tell if our phone is being abused under the radar and against our consent. What do you think?