Just in time for Valentine’s Day comes research warning against the use of popular dating apps on corporate smartphones.
An analysis conducted by IBM Security found that more than 60 percent of leading Android dating mobile apps they studied to be potentially vulnerable to a variety of cyber-attacks that put personal user information and corporate data at risk.
The IBM study reveals that many of these dating applications have access to additional features on mobile devices such as the camera, microphone, storage, GPS location and mobile wallet billing information, which in combination with the vulnerabilities may make them exploitable to hackers.
IBM also found that nearly 50 percent of organizations analyzed have at least one of these popular dating apps installed on mobile devices used to access business information.
A Pew Research study revealed one in 10 Americans, or roughly 31 million people, have used a dating site or app and the number of people who dated someone they met online grew to 66 percent.
“Many consumers use and trust their mobile phones for a variety of applications. It is this trust that gives hackers the opportunity to exploit vulnerabilities like the ones we found in these dating apps,” said Caleb Barlow, vice president, IBM Security. “Consumers need to be careful not to reveal too much personal information on these sites as they look to build a relationship. Our research demonstrates that some users may be engaged in a dangerous tradeoff – with increased sharing resulting in decreased personal security and privacy.”
According to the IBM researchers, 26 of the 41 dating apps they analyzed on the Android mobile platform had either medium or high severity vulnerabilities. The analysis was done based on apps available in the Google Play app store in October 2014.
The vulnerabilities discovered by IBM Security make it possible for a hacker to gather valuable personal information about a user. While some apps have privacy measures in place, IBM found many are vulnerable to various attack scenarios:
- Users may let their guard down when they anticipate receiving interest from a potential date. That’s just the sort of moment that hackers thrive on, the researchers say. Some of the vulnerable apps could be reprogrammed by hackers to send an alert that asks users to click for an update or to retrieve a message that, in reality, is just a ploy to download malware onto their device.
- IBM found 73 percent of the 41 popular dating apps analyzed have access to current and past GPS location information. Hackers can capture a user’s current and past GPS location information to find out where a user lives, works, or spends most of their time.
- An attacker could gain access to billing information saved on the device’s mobile wallet through a vulnerability in the dating app and steal the information to make unauthorized purchases.
- A hacker could gain access to a phone’s camera or microphone even if the user is not logged into the app. This means an attacker can spy and eavesdrop on users or tap into confidential business meetings.
- A hacker can change content and images on a dating profile, impersonate the user and communicate with other app users, or leak personal information externally to affect the reputation of a user’s identity. This poses a risk to other users, as well, since a hijacked account can be used by an attacker to trick other users into sharing personal and potentially compromising information.
Protect Against Hacks
Consumers and businesses can take steps to protect themselves against potential threats, check the permissions any app asks for, use unique passwords for all accounts and use only trusted wi-fi connections.
Businesses also need to protect themselves, especially for Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) scenarios. IBM found that nearly 50 percent of organizations sampled for this research have at least one of these popular dating apps installed on corporate-owned or personal mobile devices used for work. To protect confidential corporate assets, businesses should adopt protections to enable employees to utilize their own devices while still maintaining the security of the organization.
Companies should allow employees to only download applications from authorized app stores such as Google Play, iTunes, and the corporate app store, IBM advises.
Employers should also educate employees to know the dangers of downloading third party applications and what it means when they grant that app specific device permissions.
Finally, companies should set automated policies on smartphones and tablets, which take immediate action if a device is found compromised or malicious apps are discovered. This enables protection to corporate resources while the issue is remediated.
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