The Wall Street Journal looks into the "dark side of phone apps" in a new report about the lack of app vetting in Google’s Android and Apple’s iPhone app stores. While they don’t cite too many examples, save some questionable banking apps that Apple banned, the paper solicits the opinions of nameless FBI and security professionals who are "concerned" about malicious software making its way into these stores and in turn on consumers’ phones.
As more companies, government agencies and regular consumers use wireless devices to engage in commerce and share private information, the "bad guys" are finding new and creative ways to steal from them and profit from it.
The paper, speaking to "someone familiar with the matter," reports that the FBI’s Cyber Division has begun working on these kinds of cases – specifically apps designed to compromise banking on cellphones, as well as mobile "malware" used for "espionage by foreign nations." The FBI has a standing policy that bars its employees from downloading apps on FBI-issued smartphones. The Air Force has a similar policy.
While there is some oversight for most app stores – Google’s Android app store has no formal review process. The company has said in the past that it relies on its customers to report malware or other questionable apps first. While some security experts believe Google’s Android Market is particularly vulnerable, Google says that it has "put in place security measures, such as remotely disabling apps found to be malicious and requiring developers to register with its Checkout payment service, and argued there’s no evidence for claims that its store poses a greater risk than others."
Apple, on the other hand, vets all of its applications before they appear in its App Store, but security on that front can use some improvement too, according to some experts. The most publicized incident happened in July 2008, when Apple pulled the game called Aurora Feint from its store after it was found to be uploading users’ contact lists to the game maker’s servers. Apple claims that it " takes security very seriously," and that it has "a very thorough approval process and review every app." The company also claims to check the identities of every developer.
Still the iPhone isn’t a perfect and safe platform – we’ll leave you this scary quote from the WSJ story to think about:
Since 2008, security experts have identified at least 36 security holes in the phone’s software, according to a review of the National Vulnerability Database maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. One, identified in September 2009, could have allowed hackers to learn someone’s username and password from messages sent to servers when browsing the Web.