Researchers uncover security issues in popular pet apps
Pet apps and widgets may not be as secure in terms of keeping your personal information. Recent research by the University of Newcastle and Royal Holloway University of London has revealed several security issues with 40 popular Android apps. These apps put owners at risk by leaking their login details or location without asking for their express consent. To begin addressing this problem, researchers advise people using such technology to create strong passwords and check app permissions before downloading.
Pet tech, the technology used to improve the health, well-being and overall quality of life of pets in the pet care industry, is growing rapidly and includes a wide range of products such as GPS trackers, automatic feeders and pet cameras. For example, wearable devices monitor the activity level, heart rate and sleep patterns of pets, as well as intelligent feeding systems that dispense food according to a set schedule or in response to the animal’s behavior.
The research team identified three applications where the user’s login information is visible in plain text in unsecured HTTP traffic. This means that anyone can monitor the Internet traffic of someone using one of these applications and learn their login information. In addition to login information, two apps also exposed user data, such as their location, which could allow someone to access their devices and risk a cyber attack.
All but four of the apps contained some form of tracking software. The tracker collects information about the person using the application, the way it is used or the smartphone used. The researchers also warn that apps do a very poor job of notifying users of their privacy policies. Their analysis shows that 21 of the apps are tracking the user in some way, even before the user has had a chance to consent to it, in violation of current data protection regulations.
The researchers also conducted a survey of nearly 600 participants from the UK, US and Germany. The survey asked questions about the technologies used, incidents that have occurred or that participants believe have occurred, and what methods participants use to protect their online security and privacy and whether they apply these to their pet technology.
Risks and Mitigation
Given the potential risks posed by pet technology apps and devices, it’s important for pet owners to be aware of them. Scott Harper advises users to take the time to use a unique password and check the settings before downloading the app. It also encourages developers of such technologies to increase security measures to reduce the risk of users’ personal information or location being shared.
Maryam Mehrnezhad added: “We use modern technologies to improve many aspects of our lives. However, some of these (often) cheap technologies come at a price for our privacy, safety and security. Animal technologies can create complex risks and harms that are not easy to recognize and manage. In this interdisciplinary project, we are working on solutions that reduce such risks and allow pet owners to use these technologies without risk or fear.”