With over 80 percent of the market, the Android operating system is the most popular mobile platform. While that popularity has its benefits, such as a wide variety of apps designed to work on the Android operating system, it can also have drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks to Android systems is their vulnerability to security threats.
Because they are so popular, people that make malicious software are more likely to target Androids more than other mobile devices. Additionally, because Android is open-source, it’s also easier for developers to create malicious applications.
Types of Android Security Threats
Android security risks come from two major avenues:
- App downloads; and,
- Multiple Android versions.
Android is an open OS, which means it has more security vulnerabilities than the Microsoft and Apple operating systems. This makes it easier for programmers to make, to create apps that contain malware or are engineered to connect to malware. Third party app sites aren’t the only culprits; you can also find a large quantity of suspicious apps on the Google Play Store.
The biggest issue with app downloads is that many apps ask for more permissions than they actually need, and some of those permissions can be damaging.
For example, an app that has access to texting could send SMS messages to premium numbers, resulting in extra charges on your phone bill. Depending on the permissions, app can access phone logs, contact lists, and even record audio and take photos without the user’s knowledge.
Unless it’s a popular app and someone raises the alarm, like with the privacy concerns over Facebook Messenger’s permissions, users often say yes to the permissions without giving them much thought.
Multiple Android Versions
Google is constantly updating the Android operating system – sometimes as often as every few months – however, not all devices are running the same version of the software.
For example, someone who purchases a 4G-capable phone from a major provider, like T-Mobile, today might have the latest Android build with all the latest security patches, while someone who buys a cheap phone from a grocery store kiosk might only have Jelly Bean or even a version as old as FroYo. This is due in large part to the fact that cell phone manufacturers and wireless providers don’t always push the Android updates when they come out. In many cases, they don’t push them at all.
This disparity, or fragmentation, in Android builds makes it difficult for users to take proper security precautions, because each version functions differently.
How to Avoid Security Issues
Although the Android system has security issues, it is possible to avoid many of them.
- Invest in an Android antivirus.Having some form of Android antivirus software can help protect your device from malicious apps and viruses, and guard against identity theft and dangerous websites. Android antivirus software is a good first line of defense against internet threats.
- Avoid side-loading apps.Side-loading is where you install apps that are not specifically designed for Android, or for your version of Android. For example, Cinemax’s MaxGo app works on phones, but not on many tablet platforms. However, some Android users have found work arounds that let them install the software on a tablet anyway. Some might get the app from a third-party provider, or find a way to transfer it from one device to another. While MaxGo might not be a malicious app, using the same work arounds for an unfamiliar app could result in a security breech. If an app is not compatible with your device, it’s better to find a similar app that is, or wait until the appropriate version comes available.
- Read all of the permission requirements before installing apps from the Google Play Store.The fact that an app is compatible with your device doesn’t mean it won’t cause problems. If it seems like the app is requiring way more permissions than necessary – such as a spreadsheet app wanting access to SMS – avoid downloading it and look for a similar app with fewer permissions.
- Monitor your bills and data usage.If you have no choice but to install an app that has questionable permissions, pay close attention to your bills and data to make sure the app isn’t sending out secret texts or using data to access malware in the background. However, again, the best option is to find a similar app with better permissions.
- Check your Android version. As of this writing, the most current Android build is KitKat 4.4.4. If you go into your device settings and you have an older version, such as Jelly Bean 4.3, then you probably don’t have the latest security patches. You can go to Andorid.com to see if the update is available for download, or you can contact the manufacturer of your device. Another option is to invest in a Google Nexus device, which gets all of the Android updates as they come out.