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Your Android device may be evil

I like the Android mobile operating system. I really do. Its customizability makes it a lot of fun to work with, and the open-ended concept paints a picture of a much broader, no-limit horizon that Apple’s iOS lacks. However, Android has some serious issues. Those issues became even more troubling this week with a report that malware (viruses and spyware) created for Android has skyrocketed recently. The report, published by Juniper Network’s Global Threat Centre, shows a whopping 472% increase in Android malware samples since July.

I’ll get to the malware report next (and why you should be concerned as an Android user), but even if security wasn’t an issue, there are too many variables that led me to ditch my Android for an iPhone. I had the Samsung Galaxy S for about 10 months and my experience with it was spottier than 101 Dalmations in polka-dot bikinis. Even today, almost a year after I purchased it, Rogers has still not released an update to the year-old operating system. Really?

I’ve talked to many Android users who envy iPhone owners who actually get an operating system the day Apple releases one. In the smartphone world, a year is a loooong time, and running a year-old operating system isn’t too much fun. Being at the mercy of the wireless carriers to release an upgrade (for lack of a better term) sucks. Anyone wanting to run the awesome-looking Ice Cream Sandwich (Android’s latest OS) will have to wait at least two months. Even then, your phone may not support it, or perhaps you may be forced to wait a year for Rogers/Bell/Telus to provide an update.

Update nightmares and security aside, the Samsung Galaxy S runs slow. So slow that halfway through my 10-month-long relationship with the device I was forced to root (jailbreak) my phone and apply a patch to speed it up. That worked fine for about a month or so until things began to slow down again. Going back to iPhone was like climbing out of a Smart car and taking the wheel of a Ferarri.

Back to the malware... The Juniper report explains why Android is the platform of choice for the evildoers of the world: “These days, it seems all you need is a developer account, that is relatively easy to anonymize, pay $25 and you can post your applications.  With no upfront review process, no one checking to see that your application does what it says, just the world’s largest majority of smartphone users skimming past your application’s description page with whatever description of the application the developer chooses to include. Sure, your application can be removed after the fact—if someone discovers that it is actually malicious and reports it.  But, how many unsuspecting people are going to download it before it is identified as malicious and removed?  This is precisely what is playing out in the mind of mobile malware developers today.”

So is Apple’s iOS really that more secure than Android? It depends how you look at it. According to security experts, from a vulnerability perspective Apple’s iOS is no less secure than Android. But, what sets Apple apart is their approach to policing their application store. Google’s open policy makes it way too easy for attackers to distribute their evil goodies upon an unsuspecting public, and because we are way too trusting with the apps we download (I myself am guilty) we become as vulnerable as Kim Kardashian applying for a job as a marriage counselor after she realizes her 15 minutes are finally up.

Android has some amazing devices coming out, and Ice Cream Sandwich is going to be a big hit. As cool as the Galaxy Nexus looks to be (Canadians can expect it in December on Bell or Virgin and January for Telus and Rogers), what happens if Android gets hit with a huge virus or trojan next year? The cool factor drops to zero. Is it worth taking the chance?

To protect yourself from malware on Android, I highly recommend Lookout. It's free, and works well without hogging system resources. 

Video of the week

All this talk about Android has me thinking about robots. And when one thinks robots, Saturday Night Fever automatically comes to mind. No? Not for most of us, but the folks over at Boston Dynamics created a video of their robots dancing to Staying Alive. 

But mommy, those bipeds are freaking me out!


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Each week, Tech Soup will be written by a member of the Okanagan's burgeoning first-rate technology community. We already have a few regular contributors, but if you're interested in writing a tech piece for this weekly column, send us an email to [email protected]

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