In fall 2016, some 20.5 million students were expected to attend American colleges and universities.
In addition to this statistic from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), another one from a 2014 EDUCAUSE report says 86% of college undergraduate students own a smartphone. Put the two together and you can see why so many universities and colleges are getting onto the mobile app bandwagon and pushing out apps to their students. There is almost no limit to the higher education functionality you can build into a mobile app for college students. The unique characteristics of smartphones, including connectivity in different modes, sensors, cameras, microphones, and GPS allow them to be used for all kinds of learning experience.
Campus events, alerts, and other time-sensitive information (“assignments to be handed in today!”) are just the start. Students can also look forward to being able to make education-related payments for books, materials, and tuition fees, as well as getting access to coursework and other online college resources. Apps offering augmented reality are already making their way into classes on architecture and medicine, for example.
However, mobile apps are also one of the most popular vectors today for malware and other IT nasties. Organizations like universities and colleges that want to enhance student education with mobile apps can be caught out, whether they create their own apps or have third party providers make the apps for them. External software components and software development kits are often used in both cases, yet without certainty that the components and kits are not themselves harboring security risks.
Now, reputation for higher education establishments is a key factor in attracting suitable students. Once determined exclusively by academic prowess, campus quality, and location, the standing of a college or a university will increasingly be affected by the quality of the mobile apps provided to students to help them study better and enjoy their student lives more.
Mobile apps that link to risky sites or sources, that leak personal data to unauthorized persons, or that compromise credit cards in college payment applications will not go unnoticed for long. Students are avid users of social media (remember where Facebook originally came from?). Word can get around quickly if an app is seen to be linked to this kind of problem.
Colleges and universities need to know about mobile app reputations before they make those apps available to their students. Fast, reliable analysis of software, including third party apps, components, and software development kits, is essential. In addition, real-time, visual analysis that reveals hidden, risky relationships can help college and university IT departments correct their own apps or reject third party apps whose behavior is suspect.
The bottom line is that by using appropriate tools to analyze and visualize, like AppInterrogator and AppVisualizer respectively, higher education establishments can stay safe and help their students to stay safe too. BYOD and PCI compliance for access to campus systems and secure payments can be achieved and maintained, even when new releases of apps come thick and fast, and when only binary code is available for analysis. Good mobile app reputation can be maintained and with it the overall reputation of the college or university, and the quality of its student admissions.