Popular Apps and Games That Threaten Your Mobile Security

Philip Bates 10-10-2016

As the old saying goes, “If you’re not paying for a product, you are the product.” That’s especially true for apps. Sure, smartphones are wonderful things, but for convenience, you might be sacrificing your security and privacy.


Consider the amount of people who download social networking apps. That’s a lot of personal information.

Here’s how some of the most popular apps threaten you — and how you can fight back, without uninstalling.

Facebook Messenger

With an average of over 136 million users a month in the U.S. alone, Facebook Messenger is all-consuming, and the most downloaded app of 2016 so far. We’ve grown used to its ease and usefulness, but when it first launched, Facebook members were suspicious: after all, the app already lets you speak to friends. Why would you need to download a separate app altogether?

Facebook Messenger on Mobile
Image Credit: iPhoneDigital via Flickr

Since then, we’ve been assured that it poses no threat to our privacy How Bad Are Those Facebook Messenger Permissions Anyway? You've probably been hearing a lot about Facebook's Messenger app. Let's quell the rumors and find out if the permissions are as bad as they claim. Read More , but earlier this year, security experts found that hackers could intercept your messages on Android devices and even alter their contents through a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack What Is a Man-in-the-Middle Attack? Security Jargon Explained If you've heard of "man-in-the-middle" attacks but aren't quite sure what that means, this is the article for you. Read More .


Aside from potentially gaining private data (including financial) by spying on conversations, cybercriminals could infect devices with ransomware, or as TechWorm explains:

Facebook Messenger conversations are held as legal and binding evidence by courts in the United States, Australia and Europe, therefore such a hack could be used to alter judgment in key cases.

What can you do? Facebook’s acknowledged the vulnerability, and offered a solution, but first, you need to update the app. Once you do that, you can start Secret Conversations You Can Now Enjoy Secret Facebook Messenger Conversations Facebook now lets you encrypt all of your Facebook Messenger conversations. Once enabled, you can enjoy Secret Conversations safe in the knowledge nobody else is listening in. Read More , which enables end-to-end encryption. That’s what WhatsApp uses too Why WhatsApp's End-to-End Encryption Is a Big Deal WhatsApp recently announced that they would be enabling end-to-end encryption in their service. But what does this mean for you? Here's what you need to know about WhatsApp encryption. Read More  — not a surprise as Facebook now owns that instant messenger, too Everything You Need to Know About Your WhatsApp Privacy Settings As with all communication tools, privacy is of utmost importance. Here's how to protect your privacy when using WhatsApp. Read More .

Facebook Thumbs Up on Mobile
Image Credit: K?rlis Dambr?ns via Flickr

If you’re still nervous about using it, however, you can always try a different app for private conversations Don't Want to Use Facebook Messenger? 10 Slick Alternatives to Try Facebook Messenger isn't perfect. Why keep using it? Here are the best alternatives to Facebook Messenger. Read More .


Pokémon Go

We’re sure you recall all the panic about Pokémon Go‘s privacy settings, but that all turned out to be… Well, a typo, really. Nothing to worry about, right?

The Kremlin doesn’t agree. Russia thinks there’s something fishy, mainly because officials don’t trust John Hanke, the CEO of Pokémon Go‘s developing company, Niantic. He previously worked for a firm partly funded by the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA), which supports America’s intelligence and defense departments.

Furthermore, the app’s Terms and Conditions do raise some questions, namely why Niantic collects location data, and information about the operating device (OS) you’re using. It’s said to improve services, but it can also be passed onto third parties, as long as they seek your approval first (which they could do by updating those Terms of Service that nobody ever reads Why You Should Read Terms of Service, Make Pokemon GO Go Away... [Tech News Digest] Everybody skips past Terms of Service, PokeGone turns Pokemon GO into Pokemon NO, Facebook keeps your conversations secret, Blizzard silences douchebag World of Warcraft players, and Samuel L. Jackson explains Game of Thrones. Read More ). So what’s happening with our data, including those photos taken in Augmented Reality (AR) mode Augmented vs. Virtual Reality: What's the Difference? Augmented reality. Virtual reality. Mixed reality. What are all these "realities" and how are they going to impact you over the next few years? Here's everything you need to know. Read More ?


There’s also a highly-suspect clause that stops users filing a lawsuit, as an individual or as part of a group, against Niantic.

What can you do? If you’re within 30 days of downloading Pokémon Go, you can opt-out of that latter clause.

Pokémon Go needs location services to operate, so there’s little you can do about that. Still, there’s no reason to panic right now Is Pokémon Go a Privacy Minefield, Or Is Your Data Safe? For mobile gamers with an eye on their online privacy, questions over Pokémon Go's app permissions, how data is stored, and the background of the developer's CEO continue to cause concern... Read More . Niantic doesn’t seem to have nefarious purposes, so deleting your account How to Give Up on Pokemon Go and Delete Your Account If you've decided that you don't have to catch 'em all, here's how to give up finding Pokemon for good. Read More is pretty pointless. Nonetheless, take some precautions Worried About Your Kids Playing Pokémon Go? 8 Tips to Keep Them Safe Encouraging people to get walking is one advantage of Pokémon Go, but it's raised safety concerns. How do you let you kids enjoy Pokémon Go without putting themselves at risk? Read More like not using AR: it’ll stop you worrying about the app accessing your camera, and save you some battery The Best Pokemon Go Power Banks Pokemon Go beats the heck out of a phone's battery. Squeezing a bit more Pokemon-catching juice out of your phone requires a power bank. But what's the best battery out there? Read More , too!


And if you downloaded an unofficial version before Pokémon Go launched in your country, beware of malware Did You Treat Yourself To Pokémon Go Malware? You REALLY want to play Pokemon Go, so you've installed region-free copy acquired from a third party mobile store. But did you know that you could be opening your Android device to malware? Read More .


Breathe in deeply: love is in the air — and you might be able to smell something funky, too. Boasting an unbelievable 26 million matches worldwide each day, the dating app’s been downloaded 100 million times.

But as its popularity increases, various security issues have been raised and patches issued, including a particularly worrying vulnerability that lets hackers track users’ locations to within a 100-ft radius. That seemed to have been fixed. Then Swipe Buster reared its head, giving subscribers the power to pinpoint where someone uses the app most.

Twitter favors verified accounts, so you might think that Tinder does too. In fact, many have been applying for this to convince their matches that they are who they say they are. Unfortunately, that’s a scam. Tinder doesn’t offer verified accounts at all. A malicious bot sends you a link to a fake site that asks for your private information, including “age verification” — which asks for credit or debit card details.

What can you do? Tinder offers some basic advice for staying safe, but you’re nonetheless surrendering some privacy. That’s a nightmare for parents worried about their kids 10 Social Mobile Apps That Breach Your Teenager's Privacy Your children have become proto-adults, beginning to grow up. Like their friends, they spend a lot of time using smartphones, tablets and computers in a way you could only dream of. Read More , so if you’re in that position, you should talk to your children about online safety Keeping Children Safe In An Online World: 8 Ways To Set Up Kid-Friendly Search The Internet can be a dirty place and you have to take steps to stay safe online, but it can also be a wonderful world where kids can let their creativity and imagination run free.... Read More . As Tinder links up with Facebook, it’s well worth giving your profile a thorough privacy check-up 8 Things to Do in an Hour to Wrestle Back Privacy From Facebook We all know that Facebook guzzles as much of your information as it can. But how can you get control of your privacy again? Quitting Facebook is an option, but other options are available. Read More .

Regularly update your apps, so you know all the recent patches have been issued on your device, and don’t trust websites that other users send you to, however genuine they appear to be.

Most importantly, look through your Tinder settings, and make sure your Discovery Settings are private, or else you might be traceable.


While most of us still think Twitter is a great alternative to Facebook, the next generation has adopted another form of social media in Snapchat, the second-most downloaded app of 2016 so far.

Snapchat’s got a lot going for it 5 Reasons Snapchat Is Excellent for the Workforce With any business, communication is key. However, communication doesn't have to be all memos and emails - why not make it a little more interesting? Try using Snapchat for work! Read More , but you might’ve been put off by the so-called Snappening The Snappening: Hundreds of Thousands of Snapchats May Have Been Leaked Read More , a massive data breach from a few years ago which many think is akin to Celebgate How A "Minor" Data Breach Made Headline News & Ruined Reputations Read More . Some 200,000 private images were made public, but Snapchat assured users that their servers were secure — prohibited third-party apps were responsible. In fact, their servers delete messages by default once they’ve been viewed (or, if they’re not seen, they’re deleted after 30 days), except Live Stories, which are sometimes archived.

The good news is that Snapchat does encrypt your pictures, and while that’s never fool-proof Don't Believe These 5 Myths About Encryption! Encryption sounds complex, but is far more straightforward than most think. Nonetheless, you might feel a little too in-the-dark to make use of encryption, so let's bust some encryption myths! Read More , it does at least demonstrate a good level of security that you can depend on in most cases. But security software founder, John McAfee says that he and a team of hackers were able to read encrypted messages from both Snapchat and WhatsApp, so don’t put all your trust in these messaging services.

What can you do? Remember that anyone can save a snap. The fact that you’ll be notified is hardly the point. As encryption is far from perfect, don’t send anything you don’t want anyone except the supposed sole recipient to see.

If you want to avoid any potential Snappening-esque leaks in the future, don’t use a third party app. Make sure you’ve downloaded the official version and update it regularly. If after reading this you still want to download Snapchat, search for it in the Google Play or iOS App Stores. The authentic one should appear at the top.


This is one of the most intimate apps available: Glow is a fertility tracker, including details about sex lives and miscarriages, as an aid for couples trying to have a baby. Cybercriminals could’ve gained access to swathes of information through a security vulnerability revealed earlier this year. Given Glow’s nature, you can understand why users were worried about personal information, including names, date of birth, and email addresses.

Pregnancy Test Femtest
Image Credits: Torsten Mangner via Flickr

The flaw was in the app’s ability to share details with a partner, but which could also be sent to third parties. Personally Identifiable Information (PII) Here's How Much Your Identity Could Be Worth on the Dark Web It's uncomfortable to think of yourself as a commodity, but all of your personal details, from name and address to bank account details, are worth something to online criminals. How much are you worth? Read More is certainly valuable, but medical data can lead to identity theft 5 Reasons Why Medical Identity Theft is Increasing Scammers want your personal details and bank account information – but did you know that your medical records are also of interest to them? Find out what you can do about it. Read More , too. Thankfully, a Consumer Report found the vulnerability before cybercriminals did.

Fortunately, Jennifer Tye, head of Glow, Inc.’s U.S. operations, reassured users:

Once informed, our team immediately worked to address and correct the potential issues and have since released an updated version of the app. We also informed users via email to consider changing their password as an extra precaution … There is no evidence to suggest that any Glow data has been compromised.

What can you do? Glow patched the vulnerability straight away. You need to update the app to issue the fix, and relink accounts with partners. That is, once you’ve changed your password!

Speaking of which…

A Final Word About Passwords

Your first line of defense is always your password, so keep it private.

Whatever service you use, your password needs to be complex, and not easily guessable. Hackers could infer a lot of data about you, even by just looking through your Facebook profile, so make it as obscure as possible.

Which apps do you think are suspect? For what reasons? Have you completely abandoned a service for security concerns?

Related topics: Online Dating, Pokemon GO, Smartphone Security.

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