Is Android App security better than the iPhone?

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A recent article from online American magazine PC World has suggested a few reasons as to why applications available for download through the Android marketplace are more secure and less likely to cause harm or access personal information without user knowledge than those available from Apple AppStore. The 3 suggestions, in short, centre around permissions, the marketplace itself and the openness of the platform; more explanation below.

Permissions – Android is based on the Linux platform and each application runs in a separate ‘silo’ unable to read/write data or code to other applications. Each app also has a unique identifier with permissions restricting what it is capable of on the system. This is similar to the way Linux distros run on a PC with users (in this case the apps) being unable to access the full power and cause harm to the system at a whole without ‘root’ password knowledge.

Also for data to be shared across applications (e.g. accessing contact information) the user must be explicitly informed. In other words if the app is attempting to access information you think it shouldn’t, you have the option to stop the installation before any harm is done.

With the iPhone there are a number of system resources that an app can have access to by default, a rogue app could potentially be causing damage without your knowledge whereas the Android app has the ability to raise your suspicions early.

The Marketplace – Apple pride themselves on approving every app themselves before it goes to market whereas Google have faith in their user-evaluated service. While some consider Apple’s stance to be the safer, as the consumer we are unaware what checks the approval service itself actually consists of. Also updates to the app could always include malicious code. Also, security research firm Lookout found after some digging that iPhone apps were nearly twice as likely to be accessing personal contact information then Android apps.

Openness – Android isn’t as open a platform as many would like but there is no denying that it is more open than the iOS platform. The main point here is that the the underlying code of Android is open to scrutiny by users and developers across the world – meaning there are far more people who can potentially discover bugs, holes and problems with the platform and available applications than Apple could possible offer.

What are your thoughts? Have you experienced security issues with downloadable applications on either platform? And what do you think about the openness of Android over the closed approach of Apple? Is user-centric evaluation important to you?


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