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Are all mobile apps safe and why you should avoid those out of the official stores?

Magdalena Martens-Patyńska


6 min

Mobile applications as a response to the demand for simple and convenient solutions

The first device with simple mobile applications appeared in 1984. The Psion Organiser, presented at the time, had a clock, a calculator, and a database. It was the world’s first handheld computer. A quarter of a century later, in 2008, the App Store and Android Market (now the Google Play Store) were established and quickly began to dominate the app world.

A mobile application is a software with a touch interface intended for mobile devices. It executes certain functions after obtaining the permissions needed. Each application has a source code that the developer should regularly update. Mobile applications make it easier for us to access services and perform tasks that previously required access to a computer.

With the dawn of the smartphone era, mobile apps have become an essential tool for functioning today. The constant search for easy and convenient solutions is fueling their popularity. Today, creating a mobile app is crucial for establishing a strong presence in the industry or advancing your business into the digital realm.

The mobile application market is constantly growing, along with the number of threats

Since 2016, app downloads worldwide have surged by as much as 80% – from 140 billion to 255 billion in 2022. The business app category ranks second in terms of number of products. The largest group is educational apps, among which over half are rated low-quality.

In 2009, Google Play offered just 16,000 apps. Over the past 13 years, this number has increased 170 times. By the third quarter of 2022, Google Play already contained 2.6 million apps. The App Store had 1.6 million dedicated apps in its inventory. Over the years, the exact number of apps available in both stores has fluctuated constantly, as Google and Apple regularly remove low-quality products. In contrast, the overall upward trend has remained constant.

Since 2021, Google has intensified its efforts to combat rogue manufacturers and developers whose apps violate users’ privacy, steal data, damage devices, or incur unreasonable data transfer costs. Apps that aren’t updated regularly, don’t support the latest version of Android APIs, or aren’t aligned with the latest security standards may pose an increased risk, so they are also disappearing from the store.

According to AppBrain statistics, the number of low-quality apps on Google Play has increased by 80,000 over the past year. This translates into an 8% increase over the January 2022 data. The App Store is in a much better situation, but dangerous apps have also started to appear there. The more severe risk of breaches for Android comes from the fact that it has open-source code. This means that it can be freely modified and customized for individual applications so that the whole thing works together with the device, and the user can freely use the tool on his phone or other Android-enabled device.

How can you protect yourself from threats and the onslaught of unnecessary apps?

It is worthwhile to start by building awareness and educating your employees in the context of corporate devices and private ones, which are increasingly being deployed in a BYOD model. Many resources supporting the fight against the problem have appeared in recent years. The escalation of it results in a desire to completely shut off the threat by blocking any freedom for users. Ultimately, there are better options than turning off all business devices, and placing solid restrictions will cause employees to lose flexibility. Either way, there’s no escaping the problem, so in both private life and business, it’s worth following simple rules:

  • Never install apps that are not available in authorized app stores.
  • If you need to install such applications already, choose those that are downloadable from the official website of the manufacturer.
  • Do not download software from unknown sites, especially if the link is from an untrusted source or you have doubts about it.
  • Pay attention to the names of downloaded applications – whether there are errors or typos in them – if you find them, it is likely that the application is malicious.
  • Follow announcements with information about malicious applications.
  • Read user reviews and comments. If they are negative and low or only positive, look for another solution.
  • When installing software, pay attention to what permissions it requires and verify them every time – for example, consider why a QR code reader needs access to your contacts or microphone.
  • Regularly update your phone’s apps and operating system.
  • Use the device manufacturer’s security features.
  • Remember to protect your phone from others – use a screen lock.
  • Never install apps that you are persuaded to use by unknown third parties. Popular ‘bank employee’ or ‘police officer’ phone scams involve forcing the victim to install an app used to take control of the phone.
  • Please take note of apps that have multiple versions designed for specific editions of Android. Each application should have only one version for a particular system, ensuring the highest level of security.

The QR code reader is the most famous example of an infected Android app. Some of the apps are not typical malware, but their privacy policies may permit the collection of sensitive user data or information that is not properly protected from third-party access.

Numerous apps are created with the sole purpose of capturing sensitive data like social media logins or bank account information. Some of the more advanced ones can also harness the computing power of the device for their own objectives. The potential for exploiting malware on Android is virtually boundless.

Expert management of the app landscape is achievable

According to Statcounter, 43% of devices ran on Android in January this year. Windows came in second with a 29.5% share, and iOS closed the podium at 17.5%. Mobile devices are now the most widely used tool for personal and business purposes, collecting countless amounts of sensitive data.

Companies should not have to choose between security and flexibility. Allow your employees to use the apps they need and be confident that company devices are secure. By implementing the Proget solution, you will gain complete control over the applications on your company devices. The system allows you to create a company app store. It will enable you to securely deliver applications configured according to your company’s policies. They can come from a file or the Google Play store. The apps available in the Play store can run concurrently with the app rules. This means the user can use the programs freely, but in a form you control.

As an administrator, you can decide whether the application should be installed automatically or whether it should be available from the company’s store, where it will be waiting for the user – ready to download. An important aspect of management is also the ability to determine how applications should be updated. The administrator can force applications they provide to always be updated to the latest available version.

The Proget system will also enable you to:

  • create whitelists and blacklists of applications,
  • remotely lock, unlock and launch applications on the device,
  • manage their permissions remotely.

One of the more interesting solutions is blocking apps on the move based on the speed of the device on which they are installed. The feature supports the prohibition of using mobile devices while driving in the car. It works very well for groups of drivers or salespeople who spend many hours on the road.

A comprehensive solution for your business.

tablet and phone, home screen view with application icons