US top developer of risky mobile applications

For non-modified iPhones and Android devices, American companies create the highest number of questionable apps

A new report identifies the U.S. as the top developer of malicious and privacy-intruding applications, a finding that contrasts with conventional wisdom that often places the problem squarely in Asia.

Marble Security, which focuses on mobile security, looked at countries with developers that published applications that were either directly malicious, handled data insecurely or posed a potential privacy risk.

The research focused on application marketplaces that are considered the most secure: Google's Play and Apple's App Store. Marble also limited its study just to those applications that were not designed for modified devices, thus excluding apps for jailbroken iPhones or rooted Android devices.

More than 42 percent of the dangerous apps came from companies or publishers that identified as being in the U.S., Marble found.

The report said it may be true that Chinese or Russian app developers are responsible for developing most of the malicious applications for tampered devices.

But "it's a common misconception that the risk of using mobile devices is limited to jailbroken or rooted devices in Asia, and apps that are downloaded from fly-by-night app stores other than the Apple App Store or Google Play," Marble's report said.

Marble analyzed applications for a range of sketchy behavior, such as if an app sent data without a user's knowledge, sent premium rate SMSes, collected a user's contacts or displayed unwanted advertising.

Applications with intrusive functions can often escape quality control checks by app stores, Marble said. Apple maintains tight control over its App Store to keep the quality of applications high, while Google also checks applications in Play for malicious behavior. But it's not perfect.

"For example, an app may request access to your contact database, but does not disclose the fact that it uploads your entire contact database to third party servers, perhaps insecurely, and that this data is sold or used to target your contacts who might be colleagues at work," Marble said.

That could pose problems for enterprises trying to guard sensitive data on employees' phones.

"Consumers and businesses need to pay close attention to what apps they download on their mobile devices, even if those devices are not jailbroken or rooted," Marble said.

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