Are all mobile apps safe, and why is it better to avoid those not on Google Play or the App Store?

Mobile apps are a response to the quest for easy and convenient solutions.

The first device with simple mobile apps appeared in 1984. The Psion Organiser, presented at the time, had: a clock, a calculator, and a database. It was the world’s first handheld computer. A quarter of a century later, in 2008, the App Store and Android Market (now the Google Play Store) were created and quickly began dominating the app world.

A mobile app is a software with a touch interface dedicated to mobile devices. It performs specific functions when given the required permissions. Each application has a source code, which the developer should regularly update. Mobile applications make it easier for us to access services and perform tasks that previously required access to a computer.

With the advent of the smartphone era, mobile apps have become an essential tool necessary to function today. The constant search for easy and convenient solutions is the driving force behind their growing popularity. Nowadays, creating a mobile app is the first step to strengthening your position in the industry or the next step in digitizing your business.

As is the number of threats, the mobile app market is constantly growing.

Since 2016, mobile app downloads worldwide have increased by as much as 80% – from 140 billion to 255 billion in 2022. The business app category ranks second in terms of the Number of products. The largest group is educational apps, among which over half are rated low-quality.

In 2009, Google Play offered just 16,000 apps. Over the past 13 years, this number has increased 170 times. In the third quarter of 2022, Google Play offered 2.6 million apps to its users. The App Store had 1.6 million dedicated apps in its inventory. Over the years, the exact Number of apps available in both stores has constantly fluctuated, as Google and Apple regularly remove low-quality products. In contrast, the overall upward trend has remained constant.

As of 2021, Google is stepping up its crackdown on rogue manufacturers and developers whose mobile apps violate user privacy, steal data, damage devices, or incur data transfer costs. Also disappearing from the store are apps that need to be updated regularly, don’t support the latest version of the Android API, or need to be aligned with the latest security standards so that they can expose users to more significant risks.

According to AppBrain statistics, the number of low-quality apps on Google Play has increased by 80,000 over the past year, an 8% increase over January 2022 data. The App Store is in a much better situation, while unsafe apps have also started to appear there. The more significant threat to Android comes from the fact that it has open-source code. It can be freely modified and customized for individual applications so that the whole works together with the device. The user can freely use the tool on his phone or another Android-enabled device.

How do you protect yourself from the dangers and flurry of junk mobile apps?

It’s a good idea to start by building awareness and educating your employees in the context of company-owned devices and private ones, which are increasingly being deployed in a BYOD model. In recent years, there has been a lot of material supporting the fight against the problem, the escalation of which results in a desire to completely shut off the threat by blocking any freedom for users. Ultimately, turning off all business devices is impossible, and strongly restricting them will cause employees to lose flexibility. Either way, there is no escaping the problem, so both in private life and in business, it is worth implementing a few simple rules:

  • Never install apps that are not available in authorized app stores.
  • If you already have to install such applications, choose downloadable ones from the manufacturer’s official website.
  • Only download software from familiar sites, especially if the link is from an untrusted source or you have doubts about it.
  • Pay attention to the names of downloaded applications – whether there are errors or typos in them – if you find them, it is likely that the application is malicious.
  • Keep track of messages with information about harmful apps.
  • Read user reviews and comments. Look for another solution if they are negative or only positive.
  • When installing software, pay attention to what permissions it requires and verify them every time – for example, consider why a QR code reader needs access to your contacts or microphone.
  • Update your phone’s apps and operating system regularly.
  • Use your device manufacturer’s security features.
  • Remember to protect your phone from third parties – use a screen lock.
  • Never install apps that unknown third parties urge you to use. Popular “bank employee” or “police officer” phone scams involve forcing the victim to install an app used to take over the phone.
  • It should also draw your attention to apps with more than one version dedicated to a specific edition of Android. Each application should have only one version for a particular system, thus ensuring the highest level of security.

Among infected Android apps, the most famous example is the QR code reader. Some apps are not typical malware, but their privacy policy implies the possibility of collecting sensitive user data or data not adequately protected from third-party access. On the other hand, many apps are designed to “just” steal sensitive data, such as social media or bank account login information. The more complex ones can also use the device’s computing power. The possibilities for exploiting malware on Android are virtually endless.

Professional control of the mobile app world is possible.

According to Statcounter, 43% of devices were running Android in January this year. Windows came in second with a share of 29.5%, and iOS closed the podium with a share of 17.5%. Mobile devices are now the most widely used tool for personal and business purposes, collecting untold amounts of sensitive data. Companies shouldn’t have to choose between security and flexibility. Allow your employees to use the apps they need and be confident that company devices are secure.

By implementing the Proget solution, you will gain complete control over the apps on your employees’ work devices. The system allows you to create a company app store and securely deliver configured apps following your company’s policies. They can come from a file and directly from the Google Play Store. Apps from the Google Play Store can run concurrently with the app rules. Allow the users to use the world of apps freely but in a form controlled by you.

As an administrator, you can decide whether installing the application will be automatic or if it will be available from the business store. It will be waiting for the user – ready for download. An essential aspect of management is determining how applications should update. You can force applications to update to the latest version constantly.

The Proget system will also allow you to allowlist and blocklist apps; remotely lock, unlock, and launch apps on the device; and even remotely manage permissions. One of the more exciting features is blocking apps on the move. The system will automatically block application use when the device’s speed grows. The feature supports the ban on using mobile devices while driving in the car and works very well for groups of drivers or salespeople who spend many hours on the road.

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Data source:

Statista, Number of mobile app downloads worldwide from 2016 to 2022
Statista, Number of available applications in the Google Play Store from December 2009 to September 2022
AppBrain, Number of android apps, 02. 2023
AppBrain, Number of available apps in the Apple App Store from 1st quarter 2015 to 3rd quarter 2022
AppBrain, Most popular Google Play categories, 02.2023
Statista, Most popular Apple App Store categories as of 3rd quarter 2022, by share of available apps
Statcounter, Operating System Market Share Worldwide, Jan 2022 – Jan 2023