If you thought malware, spyware, and Trojans were the kind of things you only have to worry about if you’re running a PC with windows, it’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. For one thing, Mac users are facing increased exposure to hackers and mischief-makers. But the even bigger risk is right there in your pocket.  

Today, there are an estimated 3.3 billion smartphone users in the world. Given that the average smartphone contains between 60 and 90 apps, that’s around 250 billion apps sitting on handsets around the globe right now, a number that is rising every second. It’s an opportunity for everyone, from developers to gamers to marketers. And it’s also a huge temptation to hackers and scammers. 

The sheer ubiquity of smartphones makes apps a perfect vehicle for hackers. Smartphone users have aged anything from 10 to 110, they include heads of state and hardened criminals, celebrity billionaires and the homeless. So how can you ensure the next app you or a loved one installs is a safe one?

Download from recognized sources

Everyone wants to get a good deal, that’s understood, but when you download a game from a third party platform to save yourself a dollar or two, you’re asking for trouble. Google Play and the App Store have security measures that vet apps for malware and other threats, so always use them where possible.

Of course, there are some types of apps you can’t download from those sources. For example, if you are looking for a casino and betting mobile app, you need to download it direct from the site. In these cases, look for a recognized international brand. Be cautious of platforms you’ve never heard of offering rewards and incentives that seem too good to be true. You never know what little extras might come with the download. 

Beware of fakes

You can’t help having a little admiration for some scammers. The WhatsApp scam a couple of years ago was alike the plot from a 1960s caper movie and fooled more than a million users into installing a fake app that was hidden in plain sight. Even Google was taken in and included it on Google Play.

However, the reason these fakes are so clever is not that they are carefully crafted copies. It’s that they rely on human trust and assumption. Like the fake Facebook Messenger app that followed it, the WhatsApp scam only worked because people saw the logo and assumed it was legitimate. Those who took an extra 30 seconds to click “read more” soon saw from the developer name, the recent release date and the relatively small number of downloads that something was amiss.

Check permissions

That “read more” button should only be step one in looking a little more closely at just what you are putting on your phone. The other thing to examine before hitting “install” is the permissions data. On Google Play, just scroll to the bottom of the screen and you’ll see “Permission Details” in the Developer section.

The key here is to be on the lookout for permissions that do not seem logical. For example, allowing Instagram to access your photos makes sense. Granting Mario Cart access to your log data does not.