How to Know If an App is Safe to Install?Vanessa Venugopal
Smartphones are becoming the go-to device for people. In fact, the latest record of Statista shows that there are around 3.80 billion smartphone users in the world. The obvious reason is that smartphones are convenient devices. People would prefer their smartphones rather than using their laptops or computers.
The increase in the number of smartphone users means, increase in the number of applications created. The Apple App Store has about 1.96 million apps. Meanwhile, Google Play Store has 2.87 million apps available for download. These numbers increases as developers create apps for entertainment or business use.
Cybercriminals know how to find their next victim. Where the crowd goes, they follow. As people care less what they install on their devices, cybercriminals have the opportunity to exploit this weakness.
Most people don’t think twice when installing an app, particularly when it’s from the app store. Most believe that apps on Google and Apple App Stores are safe and free of malicious software. But this isn’t true.
App stores try their best to get rid of suspicious apps, but there are times when some hackers are smart enough to slip off the security system. So, the best way is to do your part as a consumer.
But how to know if an app is safe to download?
How to Know if an App is Safe to Download
Learn About Your App Store
Whether you are an Android or iOS user, get to know your device’s app store. You need to learn to notice and navigate through the app’s marketplace. Before you impulsively download an app, go behind and see what apps are available on your app store.
Some app stores allow third-party apps on their marketplace, which means anyone can create the app and make it available for download. It’s an added feature for smartphone users. But it becomes a risk at the same time.
There are characteristics you can look for on a marketplace to check if an app is safe.
- Check the terms of services. It should be well developed.
- It includes the developer’s contact information and FAQ for troubleshooting.
- The marketplace must have a history of scanning and removing vendors or apps with poor content.
- They have strict criteria for app developers.
If you have checked on these characteristics, you can scroll through the marketplace with a bit of confidence.
But some consumers are not satisfied with what an app store offers. More than that, some app stores limit the applications allowed on their marketplace. Therefore, consumers go outside of them to download an app they want.
If you have decided to go beyond the traditional app store to download an app, beware. Most of these apps are not available on the app store for a reason. So, think twice before you install them.
After learning about the marketplace, it’s time to check on the features of an app before you download it.
Read About the Permission
One way to know if an app is safe, read the permission section. Every app requires permission to access a user’s phone for it to function at its best. A running app will need to access your GPS, or a social media app will need to access your camera. You get what we mean, right?
But there are some apps that ask more than they require. It serves as a red flag.
If you have noticed that an app is asking permission to access parts of your phone that have nothing to do with it, don’t second guess. You shouldn’t install the app.
Some permissions that apps ask:
- Network access
- Access to camera and microphone
- Run at startup
- Vibration control
- Contacts and messages
You, as a user, can gauge if an app is crossing the line. The more permission it asks, the more suspicious it is.
You can write to the developer and ask them why they request such permission.
Look at the Stats
If an app has been downloaded multiple times, you can guarantee the app is safe. No one will download an app if it has malicious content.
Most of the time, the number of downloads serves as how trustworthy an app is. It is proof that the app has been tested and approved by users.
But also take note. Not all apps with fewer downloads mean that it’s unsafe. Some apps on the app store might just be starting. So the number of downloads is a few. If you want to be sure, try other steps on this article to check on the app.
Go for the Ratings and Reviews
Aside from basing the trustworthiness of an app on the number of downloads, you can also check the rating.
High ratings serve as a sign that an app is safe and satisfactory. But, you should also be cautious about using the rating as a basis alone. Some hackers use software to boost the ratings of an app. It makes the app look legitimate.
So, you can also try checking on the review section.
Here you can find if the reviews are in line with the ratings. Good reviews indicate that the app is safe to use and has features that meet the expectation of the users. Read each review and figure out if they are real or not.
You’ll know if reviews of an app are authentic from a fake review. Even great apps have a combination of good and bad reviews, but the good reviews outweigh the bad.
You can also notice that reviews are not as simple as “great app” or “highly recommended.” Genuine reviews sometimes include details and even the experience of the user.
Research About the App
If you are planning to download a new app, basing your decision on the number of downloads, ratings, and reviews is a bit tough. A better way to do so is to search for a review or article about the app online.
You can visit the app’s website to learn about the app the developer behind it. You can also check if they have previous apps created and the tech community they have or are part of.
There are also professional reviews you can read online. But make sure that the review written is unbiased.
Nobody wants their data and activities to be shared with anyone. But most websites and apps do that. So, if you hate invasion of privacy, check the policy section of the app.
The problem with collecting data is that they are the personal information of users. When it is collected, companies can do many things with it.
Get to Know About the Developer
An app on an app store should include the name of the developer. You can click on the name or check their website if available.
If you want to be sure, you can also contact the developer or company. You can write to them about anything your need to know about the app. In fact, most companies like to hear from their users.
By following the steps mentioned above, you can keep your smartphone safe from downloading a malicious app. But also, these practices are not 100% guarantee. You still need to protect your phone.
Ways to Keep Your Smartphone Protected from Unsafe Apps
You have tried to check if an app is safe or not. Now you have downloaded the app. What should you do next?
Install an Antivirus
There are plenty of antivirus software programs you can try for your phone. In fact, you can also download some on the app store. But be cautious because most fake apps pretend to be security software applications.
Keep Software and System Updated
Make sure to keep your device’s software and system up to date. Updates are vital to patch vulnerabilities in the system. Also, it gets rid of bugs and includes new features.
Don’t Jailbreak or Root Your Phone
The best way to prevent downloading unsafe apps is to avoid to jailbreak or root your phone. When you jailbreak or root your device, you are allowed to download any app out of the app store. That’s why it places your device at risk. Avoid this practice and stick to apps that are safe.
Track Your Apps
You should keep track of your apps. Check on the data they consume and if there are any updates available. Also, determine if you need to use the app or get rid of it.
Activate Verify App Feature
The Verify App on Google Play Store is used to scan and analyze an app if it is a potential threat. To activate it, go to the Device Settings > Accounts > Google > Security > Verify App > activate by choosing Scan Device for Security Threats.
It will scan the app you are planning to download before installing it into your device.
Delete Unsafe Apps
If you accidentally downloaded a suspicious app, you need to get rid of it. Run your antivirus app to scan any threats on your device.
As the number of apps increases, so are cybercriminals creating fake apps. Therefore, it is crucial to keep your smartphone and data safe from hackers. Practicing the tips mentioned in this article and following a cybersecurity checklist will help you keep your device safe from threats at all times.