FBI Study: Android Fragmentation the Main Reason for Malware

FBI Study: Android Fragmentation the Main Reason for Malware

They say that any publicity is good publicity, even if it's bad. But somehow I don't think the saying applies to this piece of news that has just come around on the web. Many will be defensive and others could be scared off by the fact that the US government has just expressed that OS fragmentation problems, meaning Android phones running on older, outdated versions of the operating system.

fbi malware
© commons.wikimedia.org

Fanning the Android vs. iOS flames

This definitely adds fuel to the fire in the never-ending Android vs. iOS feud, giving iOS more cred than its rival which we at AndroidPIT have all come to love. According to a recent study based on data from 2012 by the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, it shows that Android devices are more at risk of getting malware, putting official government agencies using that system in a vulnerable position. In fact, the test came up with some perplexing numbers: 79% of attacks of this kind observed during the study happened on Android devices. This was in conjunction with a very minute 0.7% for iOS phones and 0.3% for both Windows Mobile and BlackBerry devices.

Fragmentacao android
 © Developers Android

What's the main cause?

The cause for this? It’s because of Android devices which aren't regularly updated, becoming prime meat for hackers who ''at the flick of a switch'' can hack them. There's also the fact that Android is the most used OS around the globe. In most cases, the malware was installed by text messages. This information resulting from the study is now being offered to all types of serve and protect groups. However, it's important to note that they didn't say NOT to use Android. I think that if they had, Google would have barked back, coming out of their current non-commenting state regarding the ''allegations''. On the other hand, the DHS and the FBI did offer a word of advice to all mobile users: ''keep your mobile OS patched and up-to-date.'' And we answer: if that is at all possible in the country in which you live or on the phone that you currently own.

apple android bb wp
All are culprits, but Android is most at risk. © Front to Back

What do you think about this fragmentation problem? Could it be enough to push you away from Android? Or can you think of any possible solutions to this issue?

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  • So, basically, you are better off unlocking your Android Smart phone in order to receive updates to the software sooner ? (like any electronic device, always be careful what you download app wise. etc) ....

  • @Glostermeteor

    I don't think that follows. Even if people are still using XP, Microsoft provides security updates until it's EOLed. Google can't and doesn't. And I lay the blame for this entirely on Google. They have a lackadaisical attitude towards end user fragmentation. While I think the Developer fragmentation is over blown, the end user fragmentation is spot on. It's ridiculous that if I don't want to use a custom ROM, I have to buy a Nexus phone - whether I like it or not - just to get OS updates. Nexus phones are generally behind the curve from high end phones when released. If I buy the One or the S4 from Google, I lose the ability to use the software that takes advantage of the unique features of the phone (camera software on the One, Always-Listening of the Moto X, hover features of the S4).

    There are few things that Google needs to do to fix this

    1. Make sure that they can provides security updates to *all* Android phones running Google Services directly. This will mean re-architecting some core stuff and I expect that if manufacturers have provided their own implementation for that function, it won't work. But it would work for most problems hopefully. This takes care of security patches.

    2. Don't release a new OS, unless every manufacturer using Google Services has provided radios and drivers for their devices ( at least within the last 2 years) to Google for the new version. When a new OS is released, allow users to update their devices to the new OS (eschewing manufacturer skins) if they so desire. This takes care of end user fragmentation.

    3. Encourage manufacturers to provide apps that users can download from the Play Store to provide all the customized software. This will take care of apps like HTC's Camera app and BlinkFeed.

    4. For customizations that go deep into the OS, Google needs to add a customization layer with hooks into the OS. IBM did a phenomenal job of this with the Workplace Shell in OS/2 2.0. That was 2 decades ago. ISVs came up with apps that IBM hadn't even conceived with the WPS.

    It's not trivial. But it's not rocket science either. The problem is not that Google can't do it. It's that Google doesn't think this is a problem. I hope studies and reports like this will change their minds. When you have 80% of the market conquered, you tend to miss the big potential upheavals. But you are collecting technical debt and you are tipped off the perch. Nokia, Blackberry and even Apple can testify to that.

  • ljhaye Aug 28, 2013 Link to comment

    All you can be is careful with what you download, it doesn't make Android a bad OS. However staying up to date is a difficult proposition for most of us as both the carriers and OEM's determine who gets these updates, sigh...

  • I guess the FBI are well positioned to adjudicate

  • I dont think this is any more of an argument against Android than it is against. Windows has a huge fragmentation problem, I still have clients using Windows XP. But despite that 98% of the worlds computers still use it. IOS has the same issue in that there are probably many iphones and ipads out there running earlier versions of iOS. I think the main difference is the multitude of implementations of Android out there (I.e. the Samsung edition is completely different to the HTC which is also different to the Nexus)

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