New Zealand smartphone app users are among the most vulnerable in the world to attacks from cybercriminals, according to research from a global cloud security company.

A survey by Trend Micro ranked New Zealand 7th in the top 10 countries at risk of privacy exposure, behind India, Turkey, Philippines, Bulgaria, South Korea and Austria.

The ranking was based on the percentage of Android apps rated as high-risk over the total number of apps scanned per country.

Android's growing popularity among smartphone users means the platform is becoming a prime target for cybercriminals, said Trend Micro cyber safety expert Aman Chand.


Kiwis may not be aware just how much personal data is at risk when they use apps, he said.

"The accessibility people have to mobile devices is on the rise, particularly from a young age.

"More now than ever before, it is essential that as a nation, we understand how much information, is too much, to disclose."

According to a report from Google released in May last year, smartphone penetration in New Zealand at that time was at 44 per cent of the population.

Smartphone owners who used the internet regularly had an average of 25 apps installed on their phones, Google said.

Chand said cybercriminals were getting smarter all the time.

"Apps like 'Angry Birds' and 'Angry Birds Space' can access data like a phone's IMEI number and a user's location, threatening an individuals' privacy."

An International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) is a number which identifies an individual device and can be used to stop a stolen phone from accessing the network.


Dr Hossein Sarrafzadeh, head of computing at Unitec, said smartphones are just as vulnerable to cyberattacks through malware as a desktop computer or laptop.

"You've basically got a computer in your smartphone. It's a similar risk but the methods or infiltration are different," he said.

If someone gets access to the phone's IMEI number they can track its location, and consequently the owner's location.

"And if that smartphone has your details on it then they can access that as well," Sarrafzadeh said.

Its rankings were based on the yearly analysis of real-time threat detection via one of its products, Trend Micro Mobile Security Personal Edition.

The 10 most at-risk countries:

South Korea
New Zealand
Hong Kong
United States