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leaky app

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

A leaky app is a small software program – typically a mobile app – that transmits user data across the Internet.

The issue is compounded in a BYOD (bring your own device) environment, where employee devices access corporate data, and when employees use shadow IT at work: devices and software that are not supported by the company’s IT department. Many mobile apps automatically synchronize data with other devices and cloud storage services, such as Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive. Unless that function is disabled, these apps can easily leak enterprise data to public clouds without the knowledge of employees, administrators or employers. According to Gartner research, the majority of mobile security breaches are the result of faulty device configuration rather than targeted attacks. 

Leaky apps were first brought to the attention of the general public  when whistleblower Edward Snowden reported on the mass surveillance methods and activities of government agencies. According to documents that Snowden made public, agencies such as the National Security Agency (NSA) were accessing huge amounts of data leaded from mobile apps including Angry Birds, Google Maps, Facebook, Flickr, LinkedIn and Twitter. Depending on what the user has specified in his profile,  a single picture posted from a mobile device could leak image metadata including the user’s nationality, current geolocation, age, gender, zip code, marital status, income, ethnicity, sexual orientation, education level and number of children. Although in this case the surveillance doesn’t target individual users, the large volumes of data can be subjected to big data analytics to yield useful information.

This was last updated in June 2016

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