Smartphone Apps Leaking Personal Info? Android Platform to Get New Security Tool

April 25, 2011, By Sanjeev Ramachandran

Worried that  your smartphone apps are leaking personal information without your knowledge? How about getting a quick fix for such unforeseen troubles? Researchers at the Computer Science Department of the North Carolina State University and Huawei America Research Center have come up with a solution. Dubbed Taming Information-Stealing Smartphone Applications (TISSA), the newly-developed software creates a privacy mode for devices running on Android platform.

TISSA allows users to decide levels of personal information that can be shared with the apps on the phone. The settings can be changed for individual programs so that the functioning of legitimate apps is not affected. The new software presents the user with a set of privacy setting named Trusted, Anonymized, Bogus and Empty. Users can decide to which category every app belongs based on the credentials of the apps.

See what Dr. Xuxian Jiang, assistant professor, Computer Science at NC State University who co-authored the research paper on TISSA, has to say :

“There are a lot of concerns about potential leaks of personal information from smartphones which inspired us to develop TISSA giving users flexible control over what personal information is available to various applications.”

If an app is categorized as Trusted, TISSA does not impose any restriction on it. But for apps in the Anonymized category, it does not give away specific personal info but some generalized information which will let the app run without causing privacy concerns.

The Bogus setting provides fake results when an app requests for personal information while the Empty setting gives an empty response to requests for personal info that no such data exist.

TISSA comes with flexible options so that it can be customized for different applications. For example, when a weather app demands the location of the user, TISSA could be set that the phone provides a generalized geographical location, without disclosing the exact position of the user to avert any attempt to track user movement. At the same time, it helps the user to get accurate information about the weather in the area.

Though the prototype of TISSA has been a success, the researchers are now working to integrate it into the Android system. Once it is done, it is expected to be distributed as an Over The Air update. Doesn’t that sound awesome. Tell us what you feel.

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