Physical, Computer and Network Security News

Australian App-etite puts privacy at risk

Australian mobile and internet users are putting their privacy at risk by using their personal information as currency, in exchange for increased app functionality and on-the-go convenience, finds research from McAfee, a part of Intel Security.

Recent McAfee research shows that over half (51 per cent) of mobile users allow apps to access their photos, 43 per cent allow access to personal contact information and a further 38 per cent allow access to their phone’s contact list – sharing contact details for friends, family and colleagues. 68 per cent of smartphone users also allow apps to access their location1.

McAfee has highlighted the security risk to remind users during Privacy Awareness Week (4th – 11th May 2014), to increase awareness of privacy and security issues and the importance of the protection of personal information, particularly given the current security fears surrounding ‘Heartbleed’, a software bug that has the potential to compromise seemingly secure online communications across an estimated two thirds of all websites.

Michelle Dennedy, chief privacy officer for McAfee, part of Intel Security, says, "While most apps are completely safe to use, some apps have a covert mission – to collect and share information on users. As such, we are concerned about the level of personal information that users are willing to share with apps without a second thought.”

“When a user gives an app access to information stored on their phones, it’s important to consider exactly what information that app should realistically need in order to operate – for example when downloading a game, think whether the app really needs access to your contacts,” Dennedy continues.

A recent McAfee study on mobile security trends revealed that 82 per cent of mobile apps read and collect user information, tracking when users use wifi, data networks, current and historic locations and when devices are switched on. Over a third (36 per cent) of apps know various user account information, and over a quarter (26 per cent) even monitor and transmit details of other apps that a user opens2.

“With a dramatic rise in the number of malware targeting android apps in particular, we need to get serious about the level of trust afforded to mobile apps,” says Melanie Duca, consumer marketing director at McAfee Asia Pacific, part of Intel Security.

“Dropping your guard against the hundreds of permissions that apps ask for on a daily basis means that we are giving up our private and personal information, which ultimately creates a bigger problem for mobile users today than infection by malware.

“To combat this and as part of Intel’s vision to make mobile security a more integrated part of the consumer experience, we are proud to offer all Android and iOS users protection through the free McAfee Mobile Security app, which helps to prevent privacy invasions, data loss, identify theft and device disappearances,” says Duca.

Behavioral Insight

It is not only via apps that Australian consumers are being cavalier with their personally identifiable information. Over a third (34 per cent) would give up their personal details online in return for a better, more detailed service, and 28 per cent would also share information if rewarded with a discount. A further 14 per cent would be willing to share their details if a prize, such as a games console, was offered3.

“It’s tempting to use your personal data as a type of currency, but it is important to consider how much you give away and to whom. Also think about how organisations will use that information,” continues Duca.

Online Safety

In light of the recent ‘Heartbleed’ fears, which could put consumers’ personal data, including financials, into the hands of hackers, consumers should check that companies have fixed the vulnerability, by using the free McAfee tool, and then change their passwords.

“Our tool makes it easy for consumers to quickly determine if the sites they use for online shopping in particular, are affected. Once they have done this, consumers will know when it is time to change their passwords and regain confidence in a safe web surfing experience,” Duca concludes.

App Scams To Watch Out For

  • Mobile Shopping Apps – Official looking shopping apps, including those that feature celebrity or company endorsements, could be malicious, designed to steal or send out your personal data. Criminals can redirect incoming calls and messages, offering them the chance to bypass two-step authentication systems where the second step involves sending a code to a mobile device.
  • Mobile SMS Scams – FakeInstaller tricks Android users into thinking it is a legitimate installer for an application and then quickly takes advantage of the unrestricted access to smartphones, sending SMS messages to premium rate numbers without the user’s consent.
  • Gift Scams – In-app advertisements that offer deals on must-have items, such as the PS4 or Xbox One, might be too good to be true. Clever criminals will post dangerous links and phony contests to entice users to reveal personal information or download malware onto their devices.

McAfee Tips On Protecting Your Privacy

McAfee has identified key tips to help safeguard your privacy either via apps or online:

  • Don’t just give away your privacy. Look at the permissions apps ask for and don’t download apps that ask for personally identifiable information (PII) or extra permissions beyond the ones the app itself needs.
  • Beware of apps that scour your device for interesting information they should never share – such as ‘users you may know’, locations and friend’s contact details to ‘share updates’.
  • Change passwords regularly – but only once you are confident that that website has been updated to protect against the potential Heartbleed data issue. McAfee offers a free checking tool at
  • Download McAfee Mobile Security – it’s free for Apple and Android devices

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About McAfee

McAfee, part of Intel Security and a wholly owned subsidiary of Intel Corporation (NASDAQ: INTC), empowers businesses, the public sector, and home users to safely experience the benefits of the Internet. The company delivers proactive and proven security solutions and services for systems, networks, and mobile devices around the world. With its visionary Security Connected strategy, innovative approach to hardware-enhanced security, and unique global threat intelligence network, McAfee is relentlessly focused on keeping its customers safe.

1 McAfee Love, Relationships & Technology research, February 2014
2 McAfee Mobile Security Report, February 2014
32013 Community Attitudes to Privacy, Office of the Australian Information Commissioner (OAIC), October 2013

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