In 2013 Android grew to a very large number: 87%. This was its share of the global smartphone market. It also grew to an even larger one: 97%. This was Android’s share of global mobile malware.
Unless you’ve had your head under a rock you’ll have noticed the latter is fast becoming the weapon of choice for Google Google’s rivals in attempting to curtail the former. On paper it should. Android malware rose from 238 threats in 2012 to 804 new threats in 2013. What was the combined total of new threats for Apple Apple iOS, BlackBerry OS and Microsoft Microsoft Windows Phone in that time? Zero. The remaining 3% came from Nokia Nokia’s axed Symbian platform.
All of which poses a very valid question: how do you stay safe on Android? Perhaps surprisingly the answer is: easily. Why? Because here’s the part Google’s rivals don’t want you to know: the figures are misleading.
Let’s be clear. From a statistical viewpoint researcher and security specialist F-Secure got them right. Android does account for 97% of all mobile malware, but it comes from small, unregulated third party app stores predominantly in the Middle East and Asia. By contrast the percentage of apps carrying malware on Google’s official Play Store was found to be just 0.1% and F-Secure acknowledges rigorous checks mean “malware encountered there tends to have a short shelf life.”
If you want to stay safe on Android there’s the solution: stick to buying apps on the Play Store and every one in 1000 apps you buy may have had malware for a brief period.
Strangely F-Secure didn’t reveal figures for Amazon’s Apps for Android store, but other third party Android stores didn’t fare so well. Mumayi, AnZhi, Baidu, eoeMarket and liqucn were found to have 6%, 5%, 8%, 7% and 8% malware penetration respectively and an appalling 33% of apps were infected in Android159. Repacked or faked games were the big target and since it isn’t difficult to taint an app with malware the message is simple: steer clear of third party app stores that don’t have the resources to effectively scan and police their libraries.
Despite these figures, F-Secure defended Android stressed each new version “has included a number of security-related changes that help mitigate the effects of malware. “ Consequently rather than laying the blame at Google’s feet, it stressed the real problem was fragmentation caused by hardware manufacturers failing to update their devices to the latest version of Android.
But Google doesn’t get off scot-free. Google lags a long way behind Apple when making its app store available around the world. The most notable omission is China, where Apple has made significant progress in recent years.
Furthermore, while Google Play users in most countries can now purchase apps, the countries where developers can sell apps remains hopelessly restrictive. For example there is no developer support in Africa and only Argentinian and Brazilian developers can sell apps through the Play Store in South America.
It is worse when it comes to media content with only Australia, Japan, the UK and US currently able to buy TV shows while music purchases only expand that list within European countries. As such the countries where customers and developers are most likely to be attracted by the cheap prices of budget Android handsets are the least well served.
Which leaves us with the all too familiar scenario that Android’s malware problem isn’t as black and white as many would have you believe. The truth is it is easy to stay safe on Android. The problem is that sentence relies on where you live.
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