Smartphone apps could spy on users

Flashlight apps are seemingly harmless, but app developers could use the app to take personal information from smartphones, like contacts, p…

Smartphone apps could spy on users

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – One of the most common apps downloaded onto smartphones could also be one of the most dangerous, according to one security expert.

Gary Miliefsky is a founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and runs his own privacy company, SnoopWall .

He said flashlight apps are seemingly harmless, but app developers could use the app to take personal information from smartphones, like contacts, personal messages, a phone’s video camera and GPS.

Miliefsky said, often hidden in the app’s terms is language allowing this access.

“They want to get your identity or that of your children, but most likely your bank account,” Miliefsky said.

He studied and published a report on the top 10 flashlight apps.

“Why does it need to know your contact list, your phone number, your name?” he asked. “Why does it have to search for picture files? No flashlight app should be behaving this way.”

He said this information often goes to cybercriminals in India, China and Russia.

Once the apps are installed and turned on, he said cybercriminals can access banking information, even the phone’s video camera.

“There’s some new ways to actually turn on the webcam without turning on the light, so you don’t even know if your camera’s on,” he said.

The apps can also allow cybercriminals to locate the user through the phone’s GPS.

“If someone happened to be an online predator or pedophile, they know your address, they know where your kids are, they can see your children on the tablet or the phone,” Miliefsky said.

Multiple emails sent by 24-Hour News 8 to the company that makes the most downloaded flashlight app, Surpax Technologies, went unanswered.

Miliefsky says flashlight apps aren’t the only offenders, they’re just the most popular.

“Some of the top bible apps are sending data to other countries,” he said.

To protect yourself, he said apps that don’t need the internet to run are safe. For those that do, he said to read their terms carefully.

How do users protect information:

  • Disable GPS and Bluetooth when not in use.
  • Put masking tape over webcam and microphone when not in use.
  • Don’t download apps that access these features.

If these apps are already installed:

  • On Apple phones, Miliesfky said to delete third party apps immediately.
  • On Android phones, he said to uninstall the apps, back up needed information and take the phone to where it was purchased for a factory reset. Miliefsky said, on Android phones, apps can still run in the background after they’re uninstalled.

He said flashlights that come installed on iPhones are safe. It’s third party vendors offering flashlight apps in the app store that are concerning.

Click here or here to see the entire threat assessment report.

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