Why Android Attracts Malware

The past week has drawn many articles describing the latest security vulnerabilities and malware outbreaks on Android, leading some to conclude that the mobile platform is indeed the new “Wild West” of the digital age. Others state things more simply: Android is the Windows of mobile.

I agree with the latter–not because Windows was known for being insecure (although at the rise of the Internet, it certainly was), but because Windows continues as the largest OS install base in the world by a huge margin, and because the Windows ecosystem is so very much open. Those two factors combined are what malware writers love to target. Open and ubiquitous.

Obviously other mobile OS’s meet the ubiquity requirement–the install base for BlackBerry OS and iOS is certainly not small–but neither of those platforms support the open ecosystem philosophy. What we end up with is a subset of people (across all platforms) that don’t understand the potential risks of owning a mobile device, so the “openest” platform with the most users is going to end up as the prime target for blackhat hackers.

Does that mean everyone should be bailing on Android in favor of a more closed system? Absolutely not–the security on closed-source software is almost always less secure than widely used open-source. Sure, there will be more exploits targeting Android in the days to come, and no, there’s no guarantee that the platform has the best security among all of them (although the fact that it’s based on Linux, which is quite mature, gives it a leg up on iOS and Windows Phone 7 for sure). But because of its platform, any significant flaws in the OS’s security model will be indubitably corrected, and Android will emerge as the most used, and most secure mobile OS in the market.

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  • Scott

    By that logic, though, why didn’t Windows emerge as the most secure desktop OS on the market? Also, what does it matter if a closed-source system is theoretically more insecure if the open-source system has more actual exploits? I own an Android and love it, but I’m not sure about your reasoning here.

  • Stephen

    Why do Android phones have more malware?The same reasons Windows was getting chewed up by the cyber criminals for the longest time. More people using it means more targets.