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Security Risks Posed by 100K Android Apps, According to Bit9 Research

26% of Apps in Google Play Store Can Access Personal Data such as Contacts and email; BYOD Survey Finds 76% of Businesses Don’t Know Which Mobile Apps Access their Networks

News Summary:

  • Bit9 analyzed more than 400,000 Android apps in the Google Play store and classified more than 100,000 of them as “suspicious” or “questionable.”
  • 26% of these apps can access users’ personal data, including contacts and email.
  • The company also surveyed IT security decision makers responsible for the mobile device usage policy for more than 400,000 employees. Findings include:
  • 71% of organizations allow employees to bring your own device (BYOD) to work.
  • But only 24% deploy application monitoring or control to provide visibility into what applications employees are using on their mobile devices.
  • Together, these findings indicate security risks for enterprises.

WALTHAM, Mass.—November 1, 2012—Bit9, the global leader in Advanced Threat Protection, today released a new research report showing that more than 100,000 Android applications in the Google Play store—25 percent—pose a security risk to mobile device users and the enterprise networks to which they connect. In the most comprehensive research project of its kind, Bit9 examined the security permissions of more than 400,000 Android applications. The company focused on Google Play applications because more smartphones today run Android than any other operating system.

Criteria for defining an application as “questionable” or “suspicious” included the permissions requested by the application, categorization of the application, user rating, number of downloads, and the reputation of the application’s publisher. In its examination of the more than 400,000 Android apps, Bit9 found that 72 percent use at least one high-risk permission. In addition, the company found that:

  • 42 percent of applications access GPS location data, and these include wallpapers, games and utilities
  • 31 percent access phone calls or phone numbers
  • 26 percent access personal data, such as contacts and email
  • 9 percent use permissions that can cost the user money

This report follows previous Bit9 research on the most vulnerable mobile devices.

“A significant percentage of Google Play apps have access to potentially sensitive and confidential information,” said Harry Sverdlove, chief technology officer for Bit9. “When a seemingly basic app such as a wallpaper requests access to GPS data, this raises a red flag. Likewise, more than a quarter of the apps can access email and contacts unbeknown to the phone user, which is of great concern when these devices are used in the workplace.”

In addition to this comprehensive research, Bit9 conducted a survey of IT security decision makers who collectively influence mobile device usage policy for more than 400,000 employees. Almost three quarters of those surveyed said their organization allows employees to bring your own device (BYOD) to work and access company email, calendar and scheduling—a risky decision given the significant percentage of applications Bit9 found with access permissions to these programs. Of the IT security decision makers surveyed:

  • 78 percent feel phone makers do not focus enough on security
  • But 71 percent allow employees to bring their own smartphones to the workplace
  • 68 percent rank security as their most important concern when deciding whether to allow employees to bring their personal devices to work
  • But only 24 percent of companies employ any sort of application control or monitoring to know what applications are running on employees’ mobile devices
  • Only 37 percent have deployed any form of malware protection on employee-owned devices
  • 84 percent of respondents believe iOS is more secure than Android.

These results spotlight an interesting—and disturbing—policy contradiction: While the majority of organizations allow employees to bring their personal devices to work and connect to the company network, the organizations have little visibility into the privacy and security risks the mobile applications on the devices pose to the companies’ networks. Convenience, and not security, drives the growing trend to allow BYOD policies. The survey highlights a clear call to action for companies to realize that when employees access company data from a smart device, their intellectual property is being put at risk.

Click to Tweet: New mobile research from @Bit9 finds security risks posed by more than 100K Android Apps #GooglePlay #BYOD

About Bit9

Bit9, the global leader in Advanced Threat Protection, protects the intellectual property (IP) of the world’s leading brands with innovative, trust-based security solutions that detect and prevent sophisticated malware and cyberthreats. Bit9 stops advanced persistent threats (APTs) by combining real-time sensors, cloud-based software reputation services, continuous monitoring and trust-based application control and allowlisting. Bit9 is the only company to stop both Flame and the malware that caused the RSA breach. For more information, visit our website, follow us on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and Google+, or call +1 617-393-7400.