One-in-five people could be signing away their privacy when they install a new app on their smart phones, according to Kaspersky Lab, a global cyber security company that provides deep threat intelligence and security expertise to large corporates, businesses and governments and individuals. 

Through running a quiz, Kaspersky Lab discovered that consumers are installing apps on their devices without being aware of the potential consequences.

Very basic (and slightly dated) stats reveal just how vulnerable South African consumers are.

A KPMG study a year ago showed that, with a market penetration of 47%, South Africans are some of the most prolific smart phone users in the world. With 23 million people using smart phones, we are third highest worldwide and positioned above most big European nations.

With over 57 percent of internet traffic coming from mobile devices and apps becoming increasingly cool to download, the risks are huge.

The information extracted by fraudsters contributes to another growing problem in South Africa – identity fraud.

By accessing personal information such as ID numbers, telephone records and banking account details, they are able to transact under different names, stealing huge amounts from unsuspecting people – and, by default companies whose employees’ phones can access sensitive data.

According to the Southern African Fraud Prevention Service (SAFPS), reveal that identity fraud is on the increase in South Africa. 1 370 cases were reported to the SAFPS during the year ended April 2014 – a 16% increase on 2013.

With many identity frauds not reported, figures are actually much higher.

SAFPS predicted that the number of incidents could exceed the 4 000 mark by the end of 2014 – a frightening thought as they have not yet released figures for 2015.

Kaspersky Lab’s “Are you cyber savvy?” quiz discovered that a shocking 63% of consumers globally neglect to read the license agreement carefully before installing a new app on their phones and one-in-five (20%) never read messages when installing apps. They simply go through the motions of clicking ‘next’ and ‘agree’, without understanding what they could be signing up to.

Kaspersky Lab’s “Are you cyber savvy?” quiz checked the online habits of 18 507 consumers globally and found that an alarming number of consumers are leaving their privacy – and the data on their phones – exposed to cyber threats because they are not installing apps on their devices safely.

When users neglect to read license agreements or messages during the app install process, they do not know what they are agreeing to. Some apps can affect user privacy, prompt the installation of other apps or even change the OS settings of a device completely legally, simply because the user has ‘agreed’ to it during the install process.

The quiz also discovered that just under half (43%) of users could be at risk from the apps on their mobile devices because they are not ‘cyber-savvy’ enough to limit app permissions when installing apps. 15% of respondents to the quiz do not limit what their apps can do on their phones at all and 17% give apps permissions when prompted, but then forget about it.

11% think they can’t change those permissions. When app permissions are left unchecked, it is possible – and legal – for apps to access the personal and private data on mobile devices, from contact information to photos and location data.

Commenting on the findings, David Emm, Principal Security Researcher at Kaspersky Lab says: “Internet users are entrusting their devices with sensitive information about themselves and others – such as contacts, private messaging etc. yet they are failing to ensure that their information is entirely safe.

“This can turn their devices into their ‘digital frenemies’. Because they are not taking precautions when they install apps, many consumers are granting apps permission to intrude on their private lives, watch what is stored on their devices and where they are, install additional unwanted apps and make changes to their devices, right from the moment of installation.”

He said it was important for consumers to become more cyber-savvy and protect their precious data – and themselves – from these dangers.

In order to do this, consumers should only download apps from trusted sources, select the apps that they wish to install wisely, read license agreements carefully during the installation process and read the list of permissions an app is requesting carefully.