I was recently at a Holiday party where the Hostess came up with a way to help us get to know each other and feel comfortable by playing an Ice Breaker based on the Apps on our cell phones. We were asked to break into groups of 4-5 people to work together to fill out a form. It really showed us how dependent on and how attached we’ve grown to our phones. There were 25 questions to answer and each group had a “Monitor” to verify that the question was actually fulfilled by an App. Questions like: 1) Anyone have a Flashlight App? 2) Does anyone do on-line banking? 3) Who has Google maps? 4) Anyone have Mapquest? 5) Who has a Real Estate/Home find Locator? 6) Who has a Snapchat photo of a group photo of 7 or more Grandchildren? 7) Who has a Calculator? 8) Who has a Weather App for more than one area? 9) Anyone have a link to your local county library? 10) Anyone play a game on-line? etc. Though this was a fun way to ease us into conversations and melt any silences, it was also eye-opening at the vast array of phone Apps that are available.
This Party Icebreaker is what led me into researching about the safety of phone Apps. We have been warned about downloading programs on our computers. And though this season tends to be the one earmarked for giving and giving to make the Holidays happy, there are those who are taking advantage of busy people not only on-line but hitting us where we may be vulnerable. We tend to be less cautious with the Apps that we open on our phones. Previously we didn’t really have to be wary. But those times have quickly come to an end and Cyber-criminals have now figured out how to hack into phone Apps.
I personally had a real life nightmare with a phone App that I downloaded to help with emergency preparedness. It immediately sent out a “S.O.S. I need help” message to all my contacts. And because of Google maps, I actually had people pounding on my door, yelling my name and asking IF I was okay?!? We were actually headed into a movie so I turned my phone off and after the movie when I turned my phone back on, it sent out the S.O.S. message AGAIN! It was near closing time for my Service Provider but we raced there and the only thing that the Rep could suggest was to do a hard reset. I was desperate so I agreed. Then what happened was unfathomable. My 250-300 contacts turned into over 12,500!!! Some of the people were now listed over 1,500 times in my Contacts list because the different fields were sent individually multiple times. I have had to live with this Contacts list mess because after speaking to at least 12 different Reps, not one of them have either heard of this type of occurrence nor have a clue on how to fix it.
Though malware attacks based on the Windows operating system tends to outnumber malware on any other technology platform, mobile devices are increasingly seeing that they are another target. This really shouldn’t surprise us since our cell phones carry possibly very private information like a banking app, our contacts and even passwords. Even though Google and Apple are supposed to scan for malicious malware and only have legitimate apps available in their stores, it is probably this very challenge that eggs the Cybercriminal to find a work around. One of the downsides of phone malware is that many are good at consuming your phones battery life. How this is done is very sneaky and underhanded by using an Android App called a Crypto-miner. This Crypto-miner reduces battery life by constantly running complex math in the background and is not considered malicious so it escapes any security checks performed by Google etc. Cryto-miner code may not even appear “within” the App but is actually outside the App but called on by the App. (I know…for those of us without a technology background this makes no real sense.) What the cybercriminals like to do is embed “clickfraud” into the Apps which produces over $19 Billion every year. So you can see why cell phone Apps have become a lucrative money source second only to drug trafficking.
It is important to recognize that many of the popular smartphone Apps like the Weather Channel and GasBuddy are selling your location data without your knowledge to Vendors and Advertising companies. This location data gives them the information needed for targeting ads to potential customers rather than the general population. IF you don’t like location tracking Apps and helping the bad guys by giving them data to sell you can turn off the location tracking. On your Android phone: Open your SETTINGS icon, Tap on the 3 vertical dots in the Upper Right hand corner and look for “App permissions” You should see the App and all the permissions that it has. To cancel the permission, just slide the toggle from on to off. Note: not all Apps have that switch and the only way to ensure to stop its tracking you is to delete it. On Apple phones: Open your SETTINGS icon, Scroll down to find the App, then Tap on the App to open its settings, IF it has the option to change the location, Tap on it.
If you are wondering how these location trackers originally got turned on, it was probably because you allowed it when you first signed up when asked to review the pages of privacy polices and terms of agreements. We often do not either understand or even read all the fine print.