Mobile online dating apps are popular among adults looking to find their ideal partner. According to the Pew Research Center, 15 percent of U.S. adults said they had used matchmaking sites in 2015. Following Valentine’s Day, many dating sites may offer promotions, coupons, and discounts to encourage new users to enroll, meaning new users will be using these apps for the first time.
While these apps allow users to effortlessly connect with other singles sharing similar interests through the push of a button or swipe of a finger, the amount of sensitive personal information they contain is cause for concerns when it comes to cybersecurity.
A 2016 review of five of the top dating apps by Seworks, found that all five apps contained exploits that made them vulnerable to hacking. The Seworks analysis found that hackers had accessibility to reverse engineer and compromise the apps and that even the source codes were too easy to read, which provided access to critical information.
As a result of these vulnerabilities, nearly 15,000 complaints were reported under the category of romance or confidence scams in 2016, according to the FBI’s Crime Complaint Center. People may not be aware that using these apps could make them more vulnerable to data breaches. One reason for this could be an overall lack of cybersecurity measures.
The University of Phoenix’s most recent cybersecurity survey suggests that many of these breaches could be a result of Americans not taking proper precautions to protect themselves online. According to the survey, men and women alike are not practicing cybersecurity best practices, and unmarried people take fewer precautions online.
The University’s survey found that nearly 43 percent of U.S. adults have experienced a personal data breach in the past three years, with half of male respondents having been hacked. Men are more likely to use dating apps – 17 percent compared to 14 percent of women, according to Pew. While women are less likely to connect to public networks when away from home, they are 8 percent more likely to always or usually connect to one that is secure.
Despite men’s likeliness to connect to unsecure public Wi-Fi networks, the survey suggests that they are more likely than women to take other cybersecurity measures. Men are five percent less likely than women to provide personal information online and nearly 10 percent more likely to invest in identity theft protection like VPNs and firewalls.
The survey also found that dating apps’ primary audience – unmarried people – are less cybersecurity-aware than those who are married. More than six in 10 unmarried people said they use the internet on their devices on unsecured public Wi-Fi networks every day. Additionally, married people are 14 percent more likely to invest in identity theft protection.
Dating apps can be useful matchmaking tools, but those interested in trying online dating apps should be aware of the cybersecurity concerns that come with finding an introduction to your soulmate electronically. Below are three tips to help protect your information:
Don’t use the online dating apps on public, unprotected Wi-Fi networks
Criminals have developed sophisticated methods to breach security systems, but hacking can be made much easier when users access apps on public Wi-Fi networks. These networks, like those offered in coffee shops, airports, or hotel lobbies, often do not require passwords and allow anyone to monitor your activity.
If you choose to access your account while in public, elect to use your phone’s Bluetooth instead of public networks and install a VPN. Additionally, consider disabling GPS and tracking for dating apps so that criminals cannot monitor your whereabouts.
Don’t share personal information online or via apps, text, or email
To enroll, most dating apps require users to provide their names, locations, and photos, and they may ask for more sensitive information like place of employment or income amount. If you sign up for an app, provide as little personal information as possible and never share information over in-app messaging, text, or email.
While the person you are talking to may not be a criminal, hackers can access your messages and uncover your personal information if your account is hacked. Wait to share these details until you meet your match in person. If they insist on you providing bank information or to send them money, contact the authorities.
Don’t sync your apps with social media accounts
Withholding personal information over dating apps can help keep you safe, but research into the apps shows that much of this information can be found by hackers if accounts are linked to social profiles. Most dating apps are protected by passwords and may offer multi-factor authentication for an added layer of security. Using strong and diverse passwords on social sites can help enhance security, but syncing accounts to social sites create tokens that are often not secure.
Many dating apps will use tokens from social media sites to verify users who chose to sync the apps with their accounts. These tokens allow the apps temporary access to personal information despite the social media sites being password-protected. Shared information can include friend lists, addresses, interests, birthdays, employment, and more. These tokens are often not securely stored and can provide hackers access to a user’s full profile.
About the Author: Dennis Bonilla is the Executive Dean at the College of Information Systems and Technology and School of Business, University of Phoenix. You can connect with him on Twitter here: @DennisBonillaIT.
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this and other guest author articles are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.