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Tips Before Installing Applications

Before you go installing every app you find, read these security tips!

The smartphone market is growing increasingly larger with each passing day. With that, more and more people are falling victim to new malware, scams, and viruses spread through the downloading of new Apps. A report compiled by the Juniper Networks Global Threat Center research facility reported that application downloads are "the single greatest distribution point for mobile malware."

There is no full-proof fix for this trend; the problem is not in the technology but the users operating them. Too many smartphone users quickly pass through navigation screens eager to try out a new App. But before installing, there are three checks you should perform to help screen applications and keep your personal data safe.

(Android screenshots are shown, but these tips can be applied to all mobile devices)

Android Ratings and Comments Screenshot
Example of a download page showing ratings and comments.

1. Read Comments and Check Rating

Whether in the Android Market, Blackberry Marketplace or iTunes Store, every application has a rating. Any App that fails to maintain above 2.5 stars (or 50%) is likely not worth your time. Although this is not necessarily an indication of malware or a virus, this is simply a general rule to help you find quality apps. Almost all good apps will have between 3 and 5-star ratings.

You should never download any new applications without first reading the comments. Do not rely on just the top three, scroll through and see what people are saying. This will also help you understand how well an app works, or if there are any problems with a particular device, operating system, or carrier.

Android Permissions Screenshot
Example list of permissions requested.

2. Check Permissions

This is the biggest security check many users skip over. Every time you install a new application, it will tell you all of the permissions it needs to function. These are important to read as it will give you an idea of how much control over your device the application requires. While some legitimate apps often ask for more permissions than needed, you should take caution when deciding if an application is safe.

Read them and try your best to understand in terms of what the applications is supposed to do for you. For example, if you download a flashlight application, and you are warned that it wants access to read your contacts, you should think twice and probably not download it. There is no reason a flashlight application would need to know your friend's phone numbers.

Please visit our list of permissions for a full explaination and threat level of each permission.

3. Research the Developer

This generally applies to users operating with Android or Blackberry systems. While apps sent to the iTunes store are selective, the Android Market is open for any developer to share their application.

Make sure the developer has a website, contact info, or another legitimate source. If the developer cares enough about their app they will likely have a nice looking website. This is more of an indication of quality but can still be used as a check for safety.

Mainly, be cautious that you do not fall victim to a fraudulent developer spreading malware. In addition, a quick search for the developer will also bring up some relevant information that you may use in making your decision about the apps.