How to know if an app is safe

Application software

With over 500,000 in the Google Play store alone, it is easy to get sucked in by the vast amount of apps available. Not all apps being punted are created equal when it comes to safety. As with anything else, there are some things that you need to keep a lookout for when purchasing or installing an app to stay safe from online danger.

When you are confronted with the idea of purchasing or downloading a new app, your first stop will be an app store. Here is where you can already make a difference to how safe your apps are. Try to purchase only from reputable online stores (such as Google Play or the Apple App Store) or companies like Maxxor that have a good reputation preceding them with regards to the development of mobile applications. A helpful feature on Google Play is to deselect the “Unknown Sources” box in your Application Settings as this will weed out developers that do not have adequate backing.

As soon as you have chosen an app that you like, take a moment to read the “About the Developer” section. This will help you get an idea of what other apps that specific developer has previously developed and if they have a suspicious history. Also visit their personal website as this will give you an idea of their professional nature. The names of certain apps can immediately raise a red flag. Watch out for apps with names such as “Cool wallpaper for you” or anything that promotes the free aspect of the app in its title.

Even though it seems to belittle the underdogs, check the ratings of users that have come before you. They have had first-hand experience with the app and you can see whether most, if not all, were satisfied. A five-star rating is not always what you are looking for but going below three stars you will find more and more dissatisfaction and complaints from users. Be wary in this case as it might be because of a bad app or simply because users do not like the interface. As they taught you in school, always read thoroughly before you begin.

The permissions screen will also provide you a guide to any app’s ulterior motives. This screen provides you an overview of what information, and software and hardware components the app will have access to once you install it. Here one can use one’s common sense. If you want to download a weather app, for example, it does not need to have access to your contacts but access to your location is fine.

Also, something you should have before you even think of downloading any apps is downloading a reliable, well-known antivirus app. Companies like AVG and avast! offer apps that you can download for free and run to avoid malware attacks and spammers, protect your privacy by wiping or locking your device and even find your phone when it has been stolen or lost. Keep in mind, though, that mobile anti-virus is a new field and recent tests of anti-virus apps for mobile have shown that performance is relatively poor for now.

Another option for those with no time to read through pages of information to check for legitimacy is to use a site like ZScaler Application Profiler. You simply enter the application name and whether it has been developed for Android or iOS. It will show you what its security or privacy risk is out of a score of 100. Points that count against an app would be weak encryption (or sending data passwords in clear text), personally identifiable information, sending information to third-parties and providing data that can potentially identify your specific device.