Could an application potentially exploit my wifi network and compromise my personal information?
A low probability doesn't equate to zero risk!
Earlier this year, during the congressional hearing on TikTok, one particular question stood out for all the wrong reasons.
Unsurprisingly, the internet erupted with reactions. Many online commentators poked fun at Hudson's apparent lack of understanding of something as commonplace
as Wifi, and TikTok creators criticized the congressman.
However, in all seriousness, that initial question was just the first part of a larger concern.
Hudson's genuine worry was whether TikTok could potentially access other devices connected to the same WiFi network.
So what’s the answer?
According to TikTok's CEO, the app "doesn't do anything beyond industry norms," and he asserts that the answer to whether TikTok can access other devices on the same WiFi network is "no."
So, what exactly are these "industry norms"?
In the context of mobile apps like TikTok, "industry norms" refer to the standard practices and limitations followed within the technology and app development sector. Typically, such apps operate in a sandboxed environment, meaning they are confined to their designated operating space and data. The operating system imposes restrictions on what these apps can access.
These limitations include the inability to access data or functionalities from other apps without explicit permission. Importantly, apps are generally not permitted to access other devices on the same network.
However, these restrictions are not the only safeguards in place. On both Android and iOS, apps must request specific permissions for various activities. Any attempt at network scanning or interaction with other devices would require special permissions, which are typically not granted to standard consumer apps.
Furthermore, apps uploaded to Google's Play Store or Apple's App Store undergo a rigorous review process designed to detect and prevent malicious behavior, including unauthorized network access.
Lastly, modern operating systems and routers come equipped with built-in firewalls and other security measures that actively prevent unauthorized network scanning or interactions. These layers of protection contribute to maintaining the security of users' data and devices.
That said, the Chances Are Low… But Never Zero
However, it's crucial not to become complacent. The possibility remains that an app could maliciously access other devices on your network. Yes, you heard that correctly.
For instance, certain specialized network tools and VPN apps might request network permissions that, in theory, could be misused. However, it's important to note that reputable apps in these categories are typically designed to enhance security rather than compromise it.
Here's what is more likely to pose a threat to your security;
Apps downloaded via official app stores might be safe, but their unsanctioned third-party counterparts are not.
These apps sidestep the standard review process and could potentially harbor malicious code or malware. If your phone becomes infected with such apps, it may attempt unauthorized activities, including network scanning or attacks. Another common risk factor is outdated software.
Software vulnerabilities in outdated app versions or operating systems can be exploited for unauthorized activities, underscoring why companies consistently urge users to keep their software updated. For instance, Apple recently issued a critical security update
preceding the release of the iPhone 15. While it's unlikely that a single app can compromise your network and connected devices, caution is always advised.
To enhance your security, following some straightforward practices can go a long way:
• Stick to official app stores and trusted developers. Avoid third-party apps to mitigate the risk of downloading potentially harmful software.
• Regularly update your software to patch known vulnerabilities. Prioritize the latest versions over outdated ones.
• Exercise caution when granting permissions to apps. If an app requests unnecessary permissions, consider it a red flag.
For additional security measures, you can safeguard your home WiFi network against intruders:
• Create a strong WiFi password and change it regularly. Avoid easily guessable passwords and consider using passphrases for added security.
• Use WPA3 encryption for your WiFi network, as it offers improved security compared to older encryption methods like WPA2 and WEP.
• Be vigilant with public WiFi and unsecured networks. Use a VPN for added protection and refrain from entering sensitive information when connected to public networks.
Moreover, you can enhance security by:
• Hiding your WiFi network: Disable SSID broadcasting in your router's settings to make your network less visible and, consequently, less likely to be targeted.
In the realm of internet safety, remember that prevention is far more effective than dealing with the aftermath.