Android iPhone and iPad

Buyer Beware: How Not To Fall For Fake & Dangerous Apps [iOS & Android]

Matt Smith 19-03-2013

dangerous appsThe popularity of Android and iOS has put a target on their virtual backs. These operating systems are a new frontier for those who use malware to achieve nefarious goals. Many users don’t take security seriously and will happily download dangerous apps they’ve never dream of downloading to their PC.


App stores have hindered as much as they’ve helped. While they provide some policing, and remove known malware, they also lend a facade of credibility to everything they sell. Users assume apps have gone through rigorous testing, but that’s not true. You have to watch out for yourself – so here are warning signs to look for when grabbing a new app.

Read reviews

dangerous apps

Let’s start simple. Read the reviews!

This may seem like an easy, no-brainer tip – and it is. But in my experience, the easiest and most obvious tips are always the most obvious. Everyone knows they should use two-factor authentication on Gmail and Facebook, for example, yet users constantly have their accounts hi-jacked.

When I say “read the reviews” I don’t mean look at the final score. I mean, read the reviews. Look what users are saying. If an app is working well enough, but many some users are concerned about the permissions it asks for, that may trigger you to do more research. Other apps will have far more obvious signs of trouble, such as users stating their phone’s data or text messaging use mysteriously shot up after downloading a specific app. Such behavior is a huge red flag that you’ve downloaded a dangerous apps.


Read The App Description

After you’ve read an app’s review you should also read the app’s description. What you’re paying attention to is not the app’s features, however. You’re instead looking for signs of professionalism – or lack thereof.

Malicious apps, like PC malware, phishing attacks What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? I’ve never been a fan of fishing, myself. This is mostly because of an early expedition where my cousin managed to catch two fish while I caught zip. Similar to real-life fishing, phishing scams aren’t... Read More and many scams, are not known for their marketing wit or accurate grammar. Most are obviously fake upon closer inspection. Sentences will end in fragments, words will be used incorrectly or misspelled, and even the name of the app may contain errors.

The lack of rigor may seem weird, because it makes malware easier to spot, but the lack of effort also makes malicious apps easier to re-submit or post in large quantities. Malware usually isn’t designed to lure a specific target – it’s simply meant to spread as far and wide as possible.

Legitimate apps sometimes contain spelling errors, as well, but there’s a big difference between using “then” instead of “than” and an app with a nearly unreadable description.


Check The Developer

dangerous apps for iphone

If you’re suspicious about an app’s authenticity you can attempt to verify it by looking at the developer. Both Google Play and the Apple App Store list the developer of an app near the app’s name, and you can click (or tap) on it to bring up other apps that the developer has worked on.

Look for the popular game The Sims on the Google Play store, for example, and you’ll see many results. Two of these are from Electronic Arts, the publisher of the game, and you can verify their authenticity by clicking on the developer’s title and seeing that the developer is in fact the real EA and is selling numerous EA games.

Searching for The Sims will turn up other results including cheat guides, wallpapers and perhaps a clone or two. You can see that these apps are not offered through Electronics Arts, so they should be treated cautiously. In many cases, these apps are legitimate (though not very useful) – but they could also be the perfect front for malware.


Review Permissions (On Android)

dangerous apps for iphone

Android users always see a list of permissions appear when an app is to be installed. These permissions tell you what the app will be allowed to have access to. There are many things that an app might want, yet they may not always make sense. If you download a wallpaper app, for instance, it shouldn’t be asking for permission to use your contacts. We’ve already published a guide to Android’s permissions How Android App Permissions Work and Why You Should Care Android forces apps to declare the permissions they require when they install them. You can protect your privacy, security, and cell phone bill by paying attention to permissions when installing apps – although many users... Read More , so if you want to know more, check it out.

Do remember, however, that permissions are not a guarantee. Android is designed so that an app can’t leave the “sandbox” in which it’s been placed, but the boundaries of that sandbox are not impenetrable. Malicious apps have found workarounds in the past, so you shouldn’t install an app you’re suspicious of because its permissions seem harmless.

Run An Antivirus (On Android)

dangerous apps


The iOS platform doesn’t benefit much from an antivirus at this time. Apple policies for apps are more rigorous than Google, removes malicious apps that are found (there have been a few) quickly, and maintains tight control over the OS.

A few anti-virus applications are available for iOS, but they generally exist to scan for files that might infect another device (like a Windows or Mac computer) if transferred to them. This doesn’t mean that the iPhone could never be infected, but there’s no market for quality antivirus apps on the iPhone. Why buy an antivirus app if you’re not sure it will perform?

Android, however, has been hit by malware numerous times over the last year. Running an antivirus on your Android is a wise choice. There are many anti-malware apps on the market, but some of them are better than others. Read our round-up of the top three Android antivirus apps The 3 Best Antivirus Apps To Protect Your Android Security As we’ve reported frequently at MakeUseOf, Android is no longer safe from malware. The number of threats is on the rise. This shouldn’t be surprise to anyone. Smartphones and tablets can carry all sorts of... Read More to decide which you should use.


Guarding yourself from dangerous apps requires a combination of common sense, fact checking and antivirus protection. There’s no single indicator that can tell you if an app is safe or not. That’s all the more reason to use caution. Don’t download a strange app without confirming it’s worth your trust.

Related topics: Buying Tips, Smartphone Security.

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  1. CrazyRand
    April 19, 2013 at 9:51 pm

    nice article, but it may be in vain. Because some people just want apps (and games) and may just ignore all the useful advice you have stated.

    One little problem though, the idea of using anti-virus especially on an Android is not nearly as effective as it should be. I'm not sure if I can show you the link but here it is:

    I always feel uncomfortable installing apps that ask for permissions that I feel it doesn't need. There are really only two ways to this: (IMHO)
    1. Don't use the app (or game)
    2. Root your device and use some app to control the permissions of the various apps on your device.

  2. Adrian Gray
    March 26, 2013 at 1:06 pm

    Wish everyone good luck:)

  3. Netsanet Getnet
    March 26, 2013 at 11:54 am

    Very helpful. Thank you!

  4. Bryan Clapp
    March 26, 2013 at 7:09 am

    I like the fact that when I read your PDF on building a computer that I actually got something out of the Information, Thanks for everything BC

  5. Keith Swartz
    March 25, 2013 at 8:13 pm

    Great article. Reminds everyone to do the right thing: fact check & USE antivirus protection! Thanks, Matt!

  6. makeuseof4747
    March 25, 2013 at 7:10 pm

    Nice MakeUseOf !!

  7. Joel Thomas
    March 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm

    Never buy or install an app without reading one of the reviews

  8. Stephan A
    March 23, 2013 at 9:01 pm

    Read and heed, technology moves light years faster than we do. We have to do what we can to protect ourselves. Thanks, Makeuseof.

  9. Stephanie Staker
    March 21, 2013 at 7:25 am

    This is timely info for me since I am a new iPhone user. Thanks a lot for the article!

  10. Nahla
    March 21, 2013 at 7:23 am

    Just wanna share here. Am actually downloading apps from other third-party sites, like Android Drawer. Yes, I'm that brave. My smartphone is a gift I just received. However, I can't really access wireless connections in my place. So, I download apps via PC then transfer it to my smartphone. Before installing it however, I compare the permissions from the Google Play Store and check if there's a difference. If they're the same and it looks safe, I install them. So far, my phone is okay. I don't really use my smartphone other than playing games, ogling at pics, and contacting my family and friends, so I am not really worried about somebody or something accessing my private info or something.

  11. Karen Ang
    March 21, 2013 at 5:53 am

    I always read the reviews when they're available. Not much reviews for iOS apps though

  12. Hisham Sliman
    March 20, 2013 at 9:04 pm

    ALL apps ask for permissions to EVERYTHING!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • AJ_Gruss
      March 21, 2013 at 1:50 am

      Now now..that is a bit of utter nonesense...not all apps will ask all for the same permissions. Run a scanner, read reviews or stick to the android shop ONLY

      • Hisham Sliman
        March 21, 2013 at 2:00 am

        I'm trying to stick to the android shop ;)

      • Hisham Sliman
        March 21, 2013 at 2:02 am

        but they also ask for a bunch of unnecessary permissions !!?

  13. dragonmouth
    March 20, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    "Android users always see a list of permissions appear when an app is to be installed. These permissions tell you what the app will be allowed to have access to."

    That may be so but the permission descriptions do not state the consequences of granting or denying a specific permission. As you say, some permissions are obvious (wallpaper app asking to access Contacts), but what happens if I deny Angry Birds permission to perform a Device Call or access my Location?

  14. Paul.
    March 20, 2013 at 7:23 pm

    Hi peeps, thanks and keep up the good work.
    My question is ..What about BlackBerry's ?? No mention whether there are dodgy Apps for them lurking around the ether waiting for suckers like me ?? Lol.

  15. chopstick009
    March 20, 2013 at 4:52 pm

    While I understand the dangers for someone with tons of money, I myself prefer not to adhere to this fear mongering. It is a typical tactic of the powerful and wealthy to keep their corner of the market. Any app regardless of their so called 'permissions' can be used to obtain market and sales data, even, in most cases used to quantitatively asses users likes and dislikes and arrange those into demographic segments in order to boost sales and hence, Capital in a multitude of industries. You think playing a simple game like Angry Birds, is just that, playing a game. No my friend, behind every single app the are ulterior motives and goals.

    Yes, less scrupulous individuals can use cracked apps as bait in order to milk your bank account but they can also easily do that by simply driving past your house, cracking your wifi or sniffing your networks. Basically, if you want to be completely safe, don't install any apps on your work phone. Have a separate one that you try out apps with. Nothing is completely secure and no matter what you do or how many 'permissions' you accept or deny, you are always at risk. You are even more at risk from organizations such as Google, who are directly linked to the CIA, FBI, NSA etc etc etc. Now, those are the real power mongers you need to be aware of.

    Furthermore it is these organisations that are simply trying to keep their database and links to the multitude of users the world over, who are telling you to fear unknown apps because they 'might' steal your information. They don't want other countries, citizens and nationalities compromising their carefully constructed control mechanisms. So, while some 'warn' you of these 'dangerous' 'cyberspace' folk who could potentially do 'bad' depending on some apps 'permissions', they are essentially using reverse psychology developed during the Cold War to control where the money is going. Who can blame them, so much power and money and secrets to lose, means one can be very controlling with the amount of 'freedom' you let your people or the worlds people have. And no I am not on any medication, but I do tend to look behind the facade and realize that technology is the best tool to control massive swathes of humanity with very little physical intervention. Of course one would have to do away with all forms of religion to accomplish this totally, but that too has begun in schools and on nearly every channel in the broadcast medium.

    • dragonmouth
      March 20, 2013 at 7:25 pm

      I do not fear FBI, CIA, NSA, etc. spying on me. I always wear my tinfoil hat and all my devices are safe inside foil cages.

  16. Andrew Jordan
    March 20, 2013 at 4:07 pm

    Misleading title there is no problem on the iOS side, because of Apple's tight control through the App Store. Author makes unknown unfounded claim about "have been some" I don't think so. Little bits of unauthorized code have slipped through but no malware. Which is a great track record considering how much bigger library of IOS apps is vs. Android. Android unsecured platform is the problem. One good. Virus could shut them all down

  17. Ali
    March 20, 2013 at 3:37 pm

    Is Mackeeper some malicious program which slows down the Mac? or is it really some cache clening software?

    • James_Gunn_
      March 25, 2013 at 5:07 pm

      Avoid MacKeeper at all costs. They have been in trouble for posting paid reviews about their products. It has also ben described as 'highly invasive malware' see Apple support comm's here:-

      Hope this answers your question.

    • James G
      March 25, 2013 at 5:15 pm

      Stay away from Mackeeper. If you search google for 'is mackeeper legit?' the first link you get will be for Apple support communities and it shows there that it has been described as 'highly invasive malware' and they, Mackeeper(Zeobit) have been caught paying for good reviews of their product. If there are 2 replies it's because it looks like 1 didn't get posted coz I put the link to apple supp. comm's in and may have been judged spam. Hope this helps you Ali. If you do need a product to do this then 'Cleanmymac 2' is out and is excellent

  18. Jay Stoddard
    March 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    This is very useful information, thanks. I have Avast security on my computers, and they give you free security app for your phone also, it works great and has saved me from several bad apps already.

  19. Eileen Golisz
    March 20, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Good to know--sometimes the app seems to good to be true

  20. null
    March 20, 2013 at 2:35 pm

    Google Play and AppStore should try these apps first before posting them on their pages... I thought they were doing that so before I found out there are malicious fake apps I just download and download...

  21. Nevzat A
    March 20, 2013 at 1:19 pm

    Thanks for the great suggestions.

  22. Mart Kung
    March 20, 2013 at 7:45 am

    Good advice. But I felt that something was missing from this article. Examples. What kind of malware attacks have there been and what have they done, how many users are/were affected etc. This "watch out for malware and install antivirus" talk has been around for couple of decades now, and although generally right, it has become a background noise that people don't notice anymore. Without examples it's too vague threat.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      March 20, 2013 at 12:49 pm

      I remember reading a case of mass infection through a fake 'Angry Birds' title. Some users may have read similar articles, but it's better if at least one is linked in this article.

  23. Ivan
    March 20, 2013 at 5:19 am

    How about custom ROMs? any recommendations?

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      March 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Stay with known-and-proven ones like Cyanogen. Custom ROMs with bigger userbase tend to be quicker in fixing bugs, and more trustworthy. Not to mention the community will be helpful when you're facing problem.

  24. Chris Hoffman
    March 20, 2013 at 4:09 am

    Not sure I agree with the antivirus advice -- although smart people do disagree on this -- but a better tip is being super-careful when sideloading on Android. Most malware comes through sideloading.

  25. Framton Goodman
    March 20, 2013 at 12:09 am

    Thanks for this! I must say, it never occurred to me that the swipe pattern would leave tell-tales on the screen!

  26. Achraf Almouloudi
    March 19, 2013 at 11:48 pm

    I wonder why malware creators and SPAM senders doesn't have proper grammar and can't write a correct English sentence. Can anyone tell me why ?

    • André K
      March 20, 2013 at 10:32 am

      Maybe because English isn't their native language. The developers may be from India or Eastern Europe.

      • Achraf Almouloudi
        March 21, 2013 at 1:53 am

        I believe, if SPAM and phishing is their "job" it worth it to at least improve their English skills to, hopefully, be at the level of the people writing for the big companies. Just see this, I am a guy from Morocco, a country where English is the THIRD language (French is the second here) but because English is so important for my tech career, I've worked hard to improve it and I succeed.

    • Bo Peep
      March 21, 2013 at 12:36 pm

      I think you mean "don't have". Are you a spammer?

      • Achraf Almouloudi
        March 21, 2013 at 2:06 pm

        Just search for my name :) you know.

  27. Mary McGuinness
    March 19, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Thanks for this. It is good to know how to check Apps out