Nowadays, There Are Applications for Everything. Even for Stalking

18/08/2020

A simple introductory question: How many applications do you have installed on your mobile phone? 30? 40? Much more? I admit that I do not know the exact number of applications on my smartphone either. In fact, it does not really matter that much. As long as we have enough space, let's download as we please. There is one thing that is more important: Do you have an idea of who created the application and what data they have access to? If not, it would be good to check it from time to time. Not every application does only what you ask for - and your data can end up in someone else's hands.

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In 2019, users of smartphones and other mobile devices downloaded some kind of an application in more than 200 billion cases. In addition, there are more than 4,5 million of all kinds of games, social apps or helpers on Google Play and App Store - two largest markets with applications. In this mass of applications, it is easy to overlook the problematic ones. And these are just the official marketplaces!

On the one hand, users often confide to their smartphones their most intimate data, files, photos, mobiles "know" where we are or what our heart rate is. On the other hand, when installing a newly downloaded application, they mindlessly allow access to their camera, microphone, messages or location tracking. And unfortunately, once we allow access to our data, we will no longer be able to find out what data the app is actually collecting and whether any of it is not being sent somewhere to the cloud.

This can be misused by all sorts of dubious individuals on the network - thanks to being able to watch what is happening on our phone, our money may suddenly mysteriously disappear from the account (not due to frequent restaurant visits), or charges for premium messages and calls to strange African numbers might appear on the operator's bill. Not to mention hacked accounts and stolen personal information.

According to data from the antivirus company Avast, during the coronavirus period, there has been a significant increase in popularity of another theft - privacy theft. That is owning to the so-called stalkerware - an application sometimes designed as a way to control children by parents which someone misuses to monitor someone else. Thus, a jealous partner (often an ex-partner) can secretly monitor where the phone is located and what is happening on it which, apart from the fact that it is illegal, is, of course, extremely annoying. And in many cases the monitored person does not even find out about it.

So how does malicious software get into your phone? Unfortunately, in the vast majority of cases, users install it themselves. Either they download apps outside the official app stores (on Android), or they do not care who released the app and whether it can be trusted. Inadvertently, this kind of a virtual threat can be downloaded by children who just found a fun game. Especially in the case of stalkerware, it can also be downloaded by people around us whom we give our unlocked phone to.

Unfortunately, once such an app is installed on our phone, there is a very little chance that an average user notices anything suspicious. If a hacker designs an application so that it cannot be seen, then it will simply not be recognizable to a normal user. The phone does not even heat up in any way (suggesting increased background action), and often it doesn't consume suspiciously large amounts of data, either.

If you suspect that something is wrong with your phone, the easiest way is to check it with an application from a reputable producer of security products. And if you still have suspicion, the most efficient solution is to reset the phone to factory settings, change passwords and reinstall applications one at a time. This does not apply to stalking suspicions, in which case, of course, it is best to contact police and keep messages or communication as evidence. And of course, it is always appropriate to check where does the app that you are installing come from and what access permissions does it request.

It is sometimes said that today there are applications for everything. But not each app developer means well - therefore, it is better to consider what we really need and what we give our consent to. Especially when today's phone often stores similar valuables as a safety deposit box in your own home. And you would not share a code to it with a stranger, would you?