The internet landscape has been quite a mess for the last few years, and 2020 is no different. In fact, 2020 has been particularly intense when it comes to cybersecurity issues. This year we have seen everything from advanced phishing to very large malware campaigns that are exploiting the pandemic situation. The fact that most people are working from home, and with a vastly increased number of online transactions coupled with a fragile and broken global economy, it is prime-time for malicious entities to launch attacks.
When it comes to safety and privacy concerns when using apps, the situation is no different. With a number of big names in the app industry garnering hundreds of millions of users (!), it is important to talk about some of these brands and the corresponding safety issues.
Some of the concerns surrounding these apps transcend the digital realm, where they can potentially lead to dangerous situations in the real world. With smartphones taking up most of the global internet usage today, mobile apps are obviously the primary focus and concern.
What Are The Safety Concerns For Apps?
There are a number of safety concerns to take into account when it comes to apps. It is important to add to this that safety concerns plague both Apple’s iOS and Android, even though there is a belief that certain OS’s are safer than others -this isn’t really true and at the end entirely depends on what the user does online.
Let’s talk about some of the problems in app safety, starting with the list below. When it comes to social media some of these points are more applicable to kids’ safety online. This doesn’t mean that it’s safe for adults as well if they’re not cautious enough. Specifically, what we’ll be looking at is mobile social media apps, after all that is where the majority of the population of online users lies. Some of these points to take into account include:
- Social engineering attacks
- Sexual Harassment
- Theft of information via hacking
- Ransom opportunities for malicious attackers
- Impersonation and identity theft
As we can see from the possible scenarios above, there are several ways in which apps are unsafe. Most apps do require the user to be aged 13 or above, but getting around this is not a difficult task nowadays. Seeing as today’s younger generation spend so much time online, they are an easy target for malicious hackers looking to gain unauthorized access.
A study conducted online by Common Sense Media has resulted in some interesting findings. It seems that most of the younger generation massively prefer Snapchat (41% of them) over Instagram and Facebook. Snapchat, for instance, was hacked in 2014 where sensitive data such as user photos were leaked. There is also a danger that when using Snapchat as screenshots of ‘snaps’ can be exploited. The US Federal Trade Commission had warned Snapchat in the past about several vulnerabilities in the app, most of which are now fixed.
Tik Tok has more than half a billion users at the moment, and once again the age verification can be bypassed so that practically anyone can download the program. The security issue here is that Tik Tok accounts are fully public, so there is no filter for who views content, which is potentially dangerous for unsuspecting users. A much larger issue is Tik Tok’s data collection policy, in that the Chinese-owned company is not privacy-friendly at all.
Tinder, the dating revolution app. Another app that caters most to the younger generation. A common issue with Tinder is that it utilizes tracking and GPS, which can be a safety concern on its own. Also, catfishing is not uncommon on Tinder where fake identities can be formed resulting in potential predators luring people into their domain. It’s very difficult to secure everyone on Tinder because of the way it functions (in that it is made for people to match up and meet). It is the user’s responsibility to stay safe in the real world.
Instagram, perhaps the singular pioneer of modern mobile social media. Once again, the issue is that there is an enormous amount of data, photos and sensitive personal information on Instagram that can be exploited easily by hackers and espionage-oriented users. Log-in breaches and account-takeovers are common on the app. By keeping two-factor authentication on, and always checking that any communication between Instagram and yourself is official (as well as knowing who you follow), you should be safe.
Zoom, the recently crowned new teleconferencing giant not with a slew of its own problems. Zoom had huge vulnerability issues with its installer, where even access to a user’s microphone and camera was possible. Google had even banned the software for not being up to security standards. In the meantime, Zoom has rolled out several fixes, where you can now password-protect your meetings. Once again, remain vigilant and only enter encrypted meetings with whom you know and trust.
How to Practice Safe App Usage
In conclusion, it is extremely important to remember one thing. In the online world, anything connected to any network can be breached, hacked or exploited without the proper protection in place. Perhaps the most important reason why app safety should be analyzed is that mobile internet usage statistically dominates the internet space. In the United States, 83% of internet users are mobile. It is no surprise then that, given these numbers, hundreds of millions of people using social media and are potentially at risk from all of the above.
We now live in an internet age where A.I and ‘big data’ are alive. This gives space to data collection, mining and third-party exploits. Data is being bought and sold, sometimes without your knowledge and consent.
What everyone should know is that by using a trusted VPN, combined with strong passwords and two-factor authentication while using social media, you can rest assured that your safety is up to scratch. To top that off, being cautious and knowledgeable about what you post online and who is on the other side is something you should always do.