Android is popular. Really popular. According to stats from the end 2014, Google’s mobile operating system has a global market share of almost 85 percent.
Google also estimates that around 1.5 million new Android devices are being activated each day and is currently used on more than one billion devices worldwide, so it doesn’t look like its popularity is going to wane anytime soon.
As well as being the most widely used mobile operating system, it is also the most open for both developers and users.
It’s this openness which enables users to customise pretty much anything and everything on their device. If there is something on an Android device the user doesn’t like in the way it operates or looks, chances are it can be swapped for something more to their liking. Don’t like the default keyboard? You’ve got literally hundreds of others to choose from.
More secure than iOS?
But this openness and flexibility also poses potential risks for Android users and is the reason why the operating system is regularly targeted by the developers of malicious apps and viruses.
It seems that barely a week goes by without some warning about a privacy flouting virus or malware apps flooding the Google Play Store and infecting the devices of scores of unassuming users, even though, in the video shown below, Google exec Eric Schmidt famously once said Android was “more secure than iPhone,” (you can almost hear the iPhone users sniggering at the one!)
In 2014, Cisco released its Annual Security Report, which claimed that Android accounted for 99 percent of mobile malware. Whilst other security companies such as Kaspersky, Trend-Micro and F-Secure have all released white papers and reports about the threat posed to Android devices.
In 2015, there have already been a number of stories about new malware targeting Android devices, whilst other malicious apps, some of which have been available to download from the Google Play Store, are said to have already infected millions of Android devices.
With regular stories regarding a supposed lack of security on Android, it’s little surprise that there is a perception that Google’s OS isn’t very secure.
Does the world’s most used mobile OS have a security problem?
If you read the reports and news articles released by some online security companies then you’re likely to think it does. The reality is that all software is potentially vulnerable to security glitches. Companies such as Microsoft, Adobe and Apple regularly release patches to fix security flaws and bugs found in software, and Google is no different.
The Android OS is built around the Linux kernel, whilst iOS is built around the Darwin kernel, both of which are secure but at the same time are equally vulnerable to anyone intent enough on gaining unauthorized access to a device or data.
What adds to the idea that Android is somehow less secure than other mobile operating systems is the fact that so many companies warn about Android malware.
However, it is important to remember that whilst online security companies offer expertise in what threats are out there, these same companies are probably also trying to sell subscriptions to apps which protects against the same threats – so there is a kind of vested interest in hyping up the supposed flaws in Android security.
Google’s response to claims that Android wasn’t secure was has previously seen Android’s security chief, Adrian Ludwig state that only 0.001 percent of apps installed on Android are able to evade its multi layered defences.
Google also released this detail report (Google Doc), which is an interesting read and which explains its multi layered defence protects against malicious apps finding their way to the app store.
Whether or not any organisation can categorically say that its software is close to being completely safe from potential security vulnerabilities remains to be seen.
It would be a mistake to write off reports of Android’s security flaws as merely marketing spiel from software security firms, just as it would be to disregard potential security threats based on the “0.001 percent” comment from the person who is ultimately responsible for Android security.
The reality is that the extent to which Android is vulnerable probably lies somewhere between the claims of the security firms and the claims of Google.
One thing to be said for Android is that with every new version, there comes improved security features. Some of the largest of these came back with the launch of Android 4.3, which saw a series of under the hood security fixes which made it more difficult for hackers to expose potential vulnerabilities.
More recently, Android 5.0 also came with more security enhancements, which included device encryption by default and improvements to full disk encryption. In addition to under the hood improvements, the latest version, Android 5.1 also includes improved Device Protection, should a device ever get lost or stolen.
Are users to blame?
Individual users also have a responsibility to make sure they are not making themselves vulnerable to potential threats.
It could be argued that Android is actually very secure, or at least just as secure as any other the mobile operating system, and that its perceived problems regarding security are actually more often than not the result of the actions of some users.
The truth is that it is actually very easy to stay safe on Android, as long as you make sure you follow a few important rules.
For example, a good place to start is making sure you always download apps from the Google Play Store, rather than from unofficial third party app stores.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you have anti-virus/anti-malware software installed on your mobile device. There are a wide range of free options available to download for free in the Google Play Store.
As a rule, choose one from a reputable organisation you’ve heard of before and one that is rated highly by other Android users. For greater security, explore some of the paid for options available from the same security firms.
Do you think Android is secure?
Was Eric Schmidt right when he said Android is more secure than iOS?
Has your device ever been compromised?
Let me know in the comments section below.
Jonathan is our Google Nexus and Android enthusiast. He is also fanatical about football which makes it all the more strange that he should support Stockport County. In addition to writing about tech, Jonathan has a passion for fitness and nutrition and has previously written for one the UK’s leading watch and horology websites.