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Forensic expert warns of dangerous smartphone apps

A flashlight app for an Android phone is pictured, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. Richard Hickman, an Orem-based Decipher Forensics partner and digital forensics examiner, said many flashlight apps for Android phones contain spyware that could potentially give
A flashlight app for an Android phone is pictured, Thursday, Feb. 19, 2015. Richard Hickman, an Orem-based Decipher Forensics partner and digital forensics examiner, said many flashlight apps for Android phones contain spyware that could potentially give someone a way inside the devices.
Ray Boone, Deseret News

OREM — Some smartphone functions are leaving users vulnerable to hackers, and a Utah computer forensics expert says many people don't know about potential hazards.

Richard Hickman, a digital forensics examiner and partner at Orem-based Decipher Forensics, said many flashlight apps for Android phones contain spyware that could potentially give someone a way inside the devices.

“Flashlight apps in particular are one that has been a concern for quite some time,” he said.

Hickman pointed to multiple Android flashlight apps that ask for “unnecessary” permissions before download, like “full network access” and “view network connections.”

“Why does your flashlight need that stuff?” he questioned. “Why does it need permission to look at my photos? It doesn’t need that.”

Hickman said the malware is a way to collect data that could be used for other purposes.

“They’re just going to be collecting as much information on you as possible,” he said. “It could lead to anything from identity theft to trying to sell that information for advertising.”

Flashlight apps aren’t the only ones to ask for extra permissions, Hickman noted, and Android and iPhone users should look closely at permissions before deciding whether to download any app.

Restoring a phone to its factory settings doesn’t necessarily solve the problem, he cautioned.

“You go re-download all your apps, it’s just right there — right back there,” Hickman said. “You just re-downloaded the app right away.”

Smartphone users can protect themselves and minimize risk, he said, but it’s hard to keep hackers and governments with deep pockets out if they want to get inside.

“If there’s motivation to find out what you have on your device, there’s somebody out there that can get into it without you knowing,” Hickman said.

He urged users of smartphones and smartphone apps to download anti-virus software, turn off location services or GPS when it is not necessary to use it, cover a phone’s camera when in need of privacy, and always carefully read through permissions for apps before downloading them.

Email: aadams@ksl.com