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Researcher Writes Anti-Data Theft Software for Smartphones

Michael Backes (Martin Langhorst, Saarland University)

Michael Backes (Martin Langhorst, Saarland University)

A computer scientist at Saarland University in Saarbrücken, Germany (English translation by EurekAlert) has written an application to prevent the theft of data from Android smartphones. The app was written by computer science professor Michael Backes, pictured right, who chairs the university’s Center for IT-Security, Privacy and Accountability, and who has also started a company to further develop the software.

Backes notes that today’s smartphones are rich collectors of basic and personal data about their owners. “My smartphone knows everything about me, starting with my name, my phone number, my e-mail address, my interests, up to my current location,” says Backes. “It even knows my friends quite well, as it saves their contact details, too.” His software polices other third-party mobile apps that can surreptitiously send all of that data with the identification number of the owner’s device, to a server somewhere on the Internet.

The app, called SRT AppGuard, supplements the Android operating system’s basic privilege-granting process. Under Android, each app downloaded by the smartphone owner offers a list of access rights, such as location or contacts, that the app needs to operate. The owner must grant all of these privileges to the downloaded app, or Android will not install it on the smartphone. Many smartphone owners accept all of the conditions, but then discover under the Android operating system those privileges cannot be revoked.

SRT AppGuard gives smartphone owners the ability to change access privileges after an app is installed. The software shows the owner the data on the phone each app accesses. Owners can then revoke or grant access privileges for any app at any time.

Backes started the company Backes SRT GmbH in 2010 to develop SRT AppGuard and other security software for market. SRT AppGuard is available free of charge from Google Play, and runs on devices with Android operating system versions 3.0 and higher.

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