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Mobile app users leaving themselves open to security risks, study shows

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Poor security awareness, coupled with an insatiable demand for mobile apps, are placing UK consumers’ identities and devices at risk.

A new nationwide survey commissioned by RiskIQ of 1,000 people across the country reveals that almost half (45%) do not scrutinise the app’s details, while 60% never or only occasionally review the privacy policy and permissions requested by the app before downloading. Such a fast and carefree approach to mobile apps is leaving UK consumers vulnerable to cyber criminals seeking to infect the mobile devices and steal information from unsuspecting victims.

With 3.8 million cyber-crime offences reported in the UK last year, cyber criminals are capitalising on consumers’ poor security awareness. Despite the prevalence of malvertising as an attack vector, RiskIQ’s survey found that 45% have clicked on an advertisement promoting a mobile app, movie or game. This is followed by over a third (37%) who have clicked on a link in an email, website or social media feed to download an app, movie or game.

Consumers’ propensity to click through without thoroughly inspecting details such as the developer, last version update and any reviews, increases their risk of downloading counterfeit or malicious apps. Alarmingly, on more than one occasion, one in ten (12%) have mistakenly installed an app in the belief that it originated from a trusted source later to find out this was not the case.

Colin Verrall, VP EMEA, RiskIQ explains: “Unlike businesses that are becoming increasingly mobile security savvy, many consumers remain unaware and vulnerable. Given the volume of personal information being requested and shared through mobile applications, the need for better mobile security awareness has never been greater.”

Generational and gender differences in mobile app and security behaviours are also apparent:

Millennials are guilty of clicking before thinking, 14% have mistakenly installed an app they believed was from a trusted brand. In comparison, seniors (60+) have never or rarely done so.

13% of millennials have jailbroken their phones, citing the freedom to download and install what they want as the biggest factor (73%). Almost none of the seniors had done so, while 10 percent of Gen Xers and 3% of baby boomers have.

More than half of millennials (56%) have clicked on an ad on their mobile promoting a mobile app, movie or game compared to 51% of Gen Xers, 38% of baby boomers and 25% of seniors.

Interestingly, women are also at greater risk than men. The study finds that a quarter of women (26%) never read a mobile app’s data and privacy policy or review permissions requested compared to 17% of men.

Women are less likely to install additional security software on their mobile phones (39%) compared to more than half of male respondents (53%) and 28% are less likely to consider security features when buying a new phone versus 39% of men.

“The vastness of the app store ecosystem provides the perfect place for malicious actors to hide, luring consumers into believing their apps are official or their brand affiliation is legitimate. RiskIQ works with many major organisations to police their apps and brands across hundreds of different app stores but it’s no replacement for consumer vigilance. With the number of blacklisted apps doubling between 2015 and 2016, it’s time for consumers to up their ‘security awareness’ game,” concludes Verrall.

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