PhotoSmartphone users have access to an endless supply of apps, which can be either fun or productive.

We often install an app without giving much thought, but we should. After all, we're installing software on a computer (our phone) that also contains other sensitive information.

Security experts say that we need to be mindful of security risks before installing an app. One wrong decision can bypass the most secure encryption, and a malicious app can can easily compromise confidential information or even lock the user’s device.

Researcher Qian Liu and co-authors from North Carolina State University examined the conditions under which mobile device users are most likely to make security errors. They found consumers are most likely to make a bad app decision when they are in the midst of doing other things – in other words, when they're multitasking.

To arrive at that conclusion the researchers selected 65 students age 19 to 46 who were enrolled in psychology and computer science courses for the experiment. Each was asked to install 24 apps on a Samsung Nexus S mobile phone.

They then chose apps from a fake store that provided apps in eight categories: chat, music, banking, sports, food, maps, podcasts, and shopping. The store also described permissions, star ratings, reviews, and number of reviews for each app.

Security cues

Permissions and number of reviews were the same among the apps. However, the content of the reviews contained a number of security cues that an alert user might recognize as indicating which apps were malicious.

The students were tasked with identifying which of the apps were safe and which were not, at the same time engaging in other activities. These educated, tech-savvy subjects did not have an easy time of it.

They chose a safe app only about half the time. The results showed that multitasking with mobile devices creates stress and increases non-secure mobile behavior.

“We chose multitasking to focus on because when mobile phone users are doing other things, such as talking with a friend, driving while using apps, or using two or more apps at once, they experience more stress and are more likely to choose unsafe apps,” Liu said.

Insecure apps a big problem

According to a recent study, security experts discovered 277 new malware families last year. Mobile devices may offer a partial solution, since they are equipped with a range of sensors that could vary guards and provide warnings with context.

Google, meanwhile, said it may block sign-in attempts from some apps or devices that do not use modern security standards. Since these apps and devices are easier to break into, Google says blocking them helps keep your account safe.

In March, a study sponsored by IBM found nearly 40% of large companies, including many in the Fortune 500, aren’t taking the right precautions to secure the mobile apps they build for customers.  


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