Openness Of Android Is What Makes It Safe – Google

Michael Moore joined TechWeek Europe in January 2014 as a trainee before graduating to Reporter later that year. He covers a wide range of topics, including but not limited to mobile devices, wearable tech, the Internet of Things, and financial technology.

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Android chief Sundar Pichai looks to reassure users on the security of Google’s mobile software

The openness of Google’s Android operating system actually makes it more secure, not less, according to a senior spokesperson from the company.

Sundar Pichai, Google’s senior vice president of Android, Chrome and Apps, was quizzed about the security of Android during a recent interview at Mobile World Congress, and ensured users that despite the open nature of the software, “Android was built to be very, very secure”.

Open platforms historically undergo a lot of scrutiny, Pichai noted, but there are also many advantages to having an open source platform from a security standpoint.

“I would argue that it’s the best way for a platform to be secure, because every researcher in the world can inspect it, every developer in the world can inspect it, and I think that contributes a lot to Android security,” he said.

“The fact that some things are open, by any stretch of the imagination, does not make it any less secure.”

Android FragmentationSticking together

Pichai indicated that he believed increased OEM fragmentation of Android to be the cause of many security issues, as due to its open nature, each manufacturer or vendor can shape the version of Android they use, potentially leading to a range of security issues due to shortcomings on their part.

Fragmentation has long been regarded as an issue for users of Android devices, with data from Google last month showing that KitKat, the most recent version of Android, is only present in 1.4 percent of compatible devices, with the majority still using the older Jelly Bean variant, which was first released in July 2012.  However this number is expected to change through the next few months as users either update their operating systems or embrace newer devices running KitKat, such as the Samsung Galaxy S5 or Sony Xperia Z2.

At Mobile world Congress, Nokia added to the fragmentation of Android, by launching the Nokia X, which runs a forked open source version of the operating system, with Nokia’s own app store and front end.

Own-brand apps or services can also be a source of security issues, Pichai said, adding that major work has gone into the development of the Google Play app store, which automatically scans and verifies thousands of applications for malware.

Pichai was keen to emphasise the need for users to ensure that their devices are updated in a timely fashion, as this, rather than Android at a fundamental level, could also lead to security issues, saying that “As long as you’re on a phone and able to update, Android is very very secure.”

However Android remains a prime target for malware attacks, with recent data from F-Secure finding that nearly all (96 percent) of new malware families or variants seen in the first half of 2013 targeted the OS. Pichai was not surprised by these figures, theorising that the abuse is just what a company has to put up with when it becomes the clear market leader.

“Malware targets where users are,” he said. “When you say numbers like 90 percent of malware is targeting Android, you know, I hate to point out that if you’re a smart business person running this malware company, that’s what you should do. It’s the wrong way to look at the lens.

“Obviously, you will always see more malware targeting Android because Android is used more than any smartphone platform by a pretty substantial difference. I think that drives a lot of it so I understand that part of it. What matters much more is – as a user, if you use Android, are you fundamentally more compromised? We don’t think so.”

Android is currently the most popular mobile operating system in the world, with recent figures showing it commanding a 68.6 percent share of the European smartphone market, ahead of Apple on 18.5 percent and Windows Phone at 10.3 percent.

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