Are third party apps for you?

What are third party apps?” asked my mother with a frown.

Wow Gran! You are becoming pretty cyber-savvy!” commented my incorrigible offspring and added, “Wherever did you come across it?

Why, your Mom shared a post on Facebook about being cautious while using third party apps. I have been searching for a while but can’t find one. So, what are they and how do I delete them?” The last part was evidently directed at me.

I’m secretly proud of my social media savvy Mom, who has amazingly knit the extended family together by tirelessly searching for long-lost relatives and adding them to family groups and keeping the conversation alive with her daily quips and queries. So, her question jolted me awake to the fact that there are many out there in the digital world who do not have a clear idea about risky apps and how to avoid them. An explanation was definitely in order.

What are third party apps?

The apps in your devices are either developed by the OS provider or the device maker and are called native apps. These abide by the strict rules set by the vendors regarding security, quality, authenticity etc. But there are many apps that are created by developers other than these. Some of these apps are available on official app stores and as they adhere to the rules of legitimacy, security and quality set by the app stores, they are comparatively less risky.

Side-loaded apps are those whose developer/source are unknown. The developers have more freedom; they can develop free or ‘cracked’ software (like OS, movies etc.) and gain faster market reach. Some users too like to access third party apps to maintain anonymity and privacy. These include apps that let you watch movies for free or get the latest OS without paying a penny.

Some third party apps are not directly downloaded but are connected to other services or apps (like photo editing apps). These too, are risky as they have access to sensitive information through the main service or app. Think about all the apps you have given permission via Facebook to access your info and you will get it!

Why are they risky?

As the developers of third party apps are not under the control of the OS owners, they can have lower security levels. This enables advertisers and hackers to insert malicious codes within the app.

Also, to install such apps, the users have to enable “unknown sources” in the device security settings. If it’s an iOS device, it has to be jailbroken to allow the installation of third party apps. Thus making the device vulnerable to attacks.

How to check app authenticity?

  • Check the developer and source- If they are not from your OS or device vendors, they are likely to be third party apps
  • Analyze permissions sought- If the apps seek permission to access several files unnecessarily, ring the warning bells! E.g.; Why would a weather app require access to your contact list?
  • Read reviews and download stats: Go through user reviews and see the rating it has received and issues with it. A quick check of the download count will also offer a clearer picture

How to disable apps on your device?

On your Android phone: Select – settings > device > Apps > All. The default or native apps have been installed by your device vendor. Scroll down and select those that you do not want to keep anymore, are  not in use, or consume a lot of space, data or need too many permissions. Then click on the “Disable” button.

On your desktop or laptop: Go to control panel > programs. Check all the installed programs. If they have valid developers like HP, Apple, Intel Corporation, Microsoft, McAfee etc.; then they are from your vendor or services you have purchased. Review programs or apps whose developer is either unknown or seems suspicious. Google them to know what they are used for. Your kids can be of great help as they are usually very knowledgeable about apps. My kids are my go-to people for all tech doubts.

On Social Media: Check account settings and delete apps that can access your account, if you don’t need them

Cybersafety tips:

  1. Check app security levels even if its available in a valid store
  2. Secure all devices with a licensed comprehensive security solution
  3. Do not forget to Secure all your internet connected devices – smartphones, tabs, PC, Macs and gaming devices as well
  4. Don’t give in to temptation and download apps and extensions to get free alternatives to paid apps
  5. Review app, permission required and developer source. When in doubt, don’t download!

It is very important that you and your family stay aware and updated about new apps in the market and related risks. Remember even bonafide app stores may have malicious apps.

Since device and data security are a priority, let’s be a little more be app-conscious!

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