Picture this: you are flying down the highway when you feel your tire go flat. As you search through the junk in your trunk to find a flashlight to no vail, you remember that flashlight app on your phone that now seems like a life saver. And though it may seem like it serves a good purpose now, it could also be serving a purpose of its own.
“Most free flashlight apps are creepware,” says Gary S. Miliefsky, CEO of cyber security company Snoopwall. Creepware is malware that can spy on your devices, passing your online behavior and spending habits to third parties.
Goldenshore Technologies is one example of companies that create creepware apps. Makers of the popular Android app “Brightest Flashlight Free,” Goldenshore agreed to a 2013 settlement after Federal Trade Commission charges of secretly supplying cellphone locations to advertising networks through their flashlight app.
But flashlight apps aren’t the only ones in stealth mode. Several seemingly harmless apps with eavesdropping capabilities are downloaded all the time by unsuspecting users.
“Consumers trust first and verify never,” Miliefsky says. “As a result, most of their smartphones are infected with malware that they trust in the form of some kind of useful app or game.”
Miliefsky gives a few words of advice for taking back control of your phone and sensitive information.
Always Err On the Side of Caution
While its settling to assume everything is just dandy, chances are you’ve already been compromised. Take this as a wake up call to start handling issues of privacy and information sharing with a little more care.
Verify and Reduce Risk as a Proactive Measure
If you research an app that wants more access than necessary for the services it provides, this is your first red flag. Does a checkers app really need access to your contacts, camera, GPS, microphone, in addition to integration with your Facebook? Most likely not, offers Miliefsky—in such a situation, it is safer to find an alternative app that is less invasive.
Smart Phone Spring Cleaning
If you don’t use an app frequently, delete it. And replace invasive apps with others that don’t ask for too much access to your personal information
Consistently Turn off Wi-Fi and Location-Tracking Apps if Not in Use
By doing so, Miliefsky says you can prevent potential nearby (proximity) hacking attacks while you are completing errands in town or having dinner with your family. Additionally, there will be no trace of your past locations or future destinations through GPS.
Check Your Email for Possible Tracers
“If you use a Google email account and have an Android phone, you’d be surprised that even with your GPS off, it’s tracking your every move,” Miliefsky says. You can turn off the tracking feature in your phone’s settings, For Android users, go to “settings,” then “location.” Select “Google location reporting” and set “location history” to off.
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