Beware of ‘ghost apps’, cyber experts warn schools

by Heather Jane23 Nov 2015

Mobile apps that appear as ordinary icons on smartphones and iPads are being used by students to store and view pornographic images or games during class, warn cybersafety experts.

The “ghost apps” – which are also known as “vault apps” or “decoy apps” – appear as calculator, musical or stock market icons and can be accessed by typing in a PIN number.

These are available on the app store as Secret Calculator, NQ Vault and Hide It Pro.

Australian cyber safety expert, Susan Mclean, told Perth Now that parents and teachers were mostly oblivious that students were accessing such apps during class.

“They’ll ask a child to hand over their iPad, for example, don’t see anything untoward, don’t see any games, but don’t understand it’s all embedded in the calculator app,” Mclean said.

The hidden apps made world headlines earlier in the month when it was revealed at least 100 students at a US high school were exchanging naked photos under the guise of harmless-looking icons on their mobile devices.

Mclean some Australian high school students were facing criminal charges over similar situations.

Senior education adviser with the Office of the Children’s eSafety Commissioner, Kellie Britnell, said many students are unaware that “sexting” with someone under 18 can be a criminal offence.

Year 11 cyber safety ambassadors from Perth College, where McLean spoke earlier this year, said the apps had become “pretty common”.

“People usually use them to hide photos or keep private things that they want just for themselves away from their friends, in case they go on to their phone, or away from their parents,” student Elizabeth Daubney said.

“(The app) looks like a calculator, it looks slightly different but not noticeably different and you just tap it and then put in a four-digit code.”

Classmate Taylor Stone said too many young people were risking their futures by engaging in risky behaviour online – especially with photos.

 
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW
  • The most popular “ghost app” use a calculator icon
  • Many “ghost apps” will ask for a PIN code if you tap on them
  • Another way to find a “ghost app” is to check the phone settings. If a seemingly innocuous app is using lots of data then ask questions
  • Parents and teachers alike should talk to kids about the risks involved in sharing personal information, including pictures, online
 

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