How Dating Apps Could Destroy Your Business

Duncan MacRae is former editor and now a contributor to TechWeekEurope. He previously edited Computer Business Review's print/digital magazines and CBR Online, as well as Arabian Computer News in the UAE.

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IBM discovers majority of dating apps are vulnerable to cyberattacks – and they’re installed on mobile devices used to access business information

More than 60 percent of leading dating mobile apps are vulnerable to a variety of cyber-attacks that put personal user information and corporate data at risk.

This was one of the findings of an IBM Security study, which also reveals that many dating apps have access to additional features on mobile devices such as the camera, microphone, storage, GPS location and mobile wallet billing information. This, in combination with the vulnerabilities, may make them exploitable to hackers. IBM also found that almost 50 percent of organisations it analysed have at least one of these popular dating apps installed on mobile devices used to access business information.

Trusting mobile phones

In today’s connected culture, dating apps are a common and convenient way for singles of all ages to meet new love interests. In fact, a Pew Research study revealed one in 10 Americans, or roughly 31 million people, have used a dating site or app and the number of people who dated someone they met online grew to 66 percent over the past eight years.

Android heartbleed security bug love © Palto shutterstockCaleb Barlow, vice president, IBM Security, said: “Many consumers use and trust their mobile phones for a variety of applications. It is this trust that gives hackers the opportunity to exploit vulnerabilities like the ones we found in these dating apps. Consumers need to be careful not to reveal too much personal information on these sites as they look to build a relationship. Our research demonstrates that some users may be engaged in a dangerous tradeoff, with increased sharing resulting in decreased personal security and privacy.”

Security researchers from IBM Security identified that 26 of the 41 dating apps they analysed on the Android mobile platform had either medium or high severity vulnerabilities. The analysis was done based on apps available in the Google Play app store in October 2014.

The vulnerabilities discovered by IBM Security make it possible for a hacker to gather valuable personal information about a user. While some apps have privacy measures in place, IBM found many are vulnerable to attacks that could lead to the following scenarios:

Dating App Used to Download Malware: Users let their guard down when they anticipate receiving interest from a potential date. That’s just the sort of moment that hackers thrive on. Some of the vulnerable apps could be reprogrammed by hackers to send an alert that asks users to click for an update or to retrieve a message that, in reality, is just a ploy to download malware onto their device.

GPS Information Us to Track Movementsed: IBM found 73 percent of the 41 popular dating apps analysed have access to current and past GPS location information. Hackers can capture a user’s current and past GPS location information to find out where a user lives, works, or spends most of their time.

Credit Card Numbers Stolen From App: 48 percent of the 41 popular dating apps analyzed have access to a user’s billing information saved on their device. Through poor coding, an attacker could gain access to billing information saved on the device’s mobile wallet through a vulnerability in the dating app and steal the information to make unauthorized purchases.

Remote Control of a Phone’s Camera or Microphone: All the vulnerabilities identified can allow a hacker to gain access to a phone’s camera or microphone even if the user is not logged into the app. This means an attacker can spy and eavesdrop on users or tap into confidential business meetings.

Hijacking of Your Dating Profile: A hacker can change content and images on the dating profile, impersonate the user and communicate with other app users, or leak personal information externally to affect the reputation of a user’s identity. This poses a risk to other users, as well, since a hijacked account can be used by an attacker to trick other users into sharing personal and potentially compromising information.

Some of the specific vulnerabilities identified on the at-risk dating apps include cross site scripting via man in the middle, debug flag enabled, weak random number generator and phishing via man in the middle. When these vulnerabilities are exploited an attacker can potentially use the mobile device to conduct attacks.

For example, hackers could intercept cookies from the app via a Wi-Fi connection or rogue access point, and then tap into other device features such as the camera, GPS, and microphone that the app has permission to access. They also could create a fake login screen via the dating app to capture the user’s credentials, so when they try to log into a website, the information is also shared with the attacker.

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