Apple computers have gained the reputation of being safer from virus than their counter parts in the PC market. The same may be true for its mobile OS.
According to Juniper Networks Inc., Google’s Android OS for mobile devices like smartphones and tablets have had close to a six fold increase in spyware and viruses since July. Most of these threats emanate from apps that are available from third party sites not associated with Google’s Android Market.
Google chose to make their OS open to third party vendors while Apple fiercely controls its mobile OS. Unlike users of Android powered mobile devices, iPhone and iPad users can only access apps from Apple’s App store which the company controls. Because Android software is open, anyone can download it. This also means that apps aren’t checked and thus, makes it easier for third party vendors to embed malware into their applications. In contrast, Apple screens each app before it adds it to its App Store.
The recent growth in the Android market makes it an attractive target for hackers because they have a chance at greater reach without the need to jump through the hoops Apple would put their apps through. The apps do not necessarily corrupt the OS and could merely be collecting information from the phone. According to Juniper, of the thousands of infected Android apps, 55% contain spyware that does just that.
It seems that the 472% jump in app viruses since July stem from Android users’ ability to buy apps online at sites like mmoovv.com or samsunggalaxy-s.ru, which present malicious apps alongside the legitimate ones. Users go to these sites because the Android Market might not be available everywhere or simply because these third party apps are usually cheaper than the real thing. For example, one can find a pirated copy of Angry Birds next to the real Angry Birds. It seems that this is where many of the new viruses are coming from: pirated versions of successful apps.
But this might just be the Android OS coming of age, with some hurtles to overcome in the beginning. Since it is so young, the open source mobile app market does have a lot of weaknesses which make it vulnerable to hackers. But as more and more people start using the Android OS and identify potential threats, it might eventually become safer than the closed model Apple boasts. According to Edward Amoroso, chief security officer for AT&T Inc., “An open model tends to allow a flurry of vulnerabilities, very quickly, that tend to stop being a problem as more people find them. A closed system will have longer, more sustained, but more predictable and controllable set of vulnerabilities.” Amoroso continued to state that just like the open source operating systems for PCs, which were initially more vulnerable to viruses than Microsoft Windows, the programing community was eventually able to make them safer.
One way to do this would be to develop more security apps. Indeed, mobile security firms that specialize in this area are already starting to produce these types of apps, like Lockout Security & Antivirus which can be found in the Android Market and claims to have an upwards of 12 million users.
Will Android prove to become a safer mobile OS than Apple’s OS? Time will tell. The rapid increase of Android powered devices will definitely give programmers the chance to identify threats. But for right now the Android OS is a hackers dream.