I have finally got round to reading Google’s ‘Android Security 2014 Year in Review’ (pdf). I believe it’s mainly a public relations exercise to assure everyone that Android is safe and that Google is being proactive in improving security. However, having read the report it’s easy to come away with the impression that everything’s ok. There are few places in the report I thought “Yes, but…”.
First an obvious one. Google say they “provided device manufacturers with ongoing support for fixing security vulnerabilities in devices, including development of 79 security patches”. However, what they don’t say is that very few of them made their way onto consumers devices.
Google say “Fewer than 0.15% of devices that download only from Google Play had a Potentially Harmful Application (PHA) installed”. This doesn’t sound many. As an end user you will probably be comforted by such a statistic. However, what if you are a company with say 1000 employees? Statistically, at least one of them might be leaking company information. What if you are a bank with millions of customers using a banking app? If your app doesn’t adequately secure data then a very large number of people could be affected. I think what this means for developers is that just because there’s a low chance of infection, apps should still take exceptional steps to protect their own sensitive data and not solely rely on the fact the platform is secure most of the time. The fact that Android is “secure most of the time” is only of significance for end users.
There’s lots of emphasis on Google’s Verify Apps that checks apps at time of install. This won’t catch everything. Attackers are getting good at installing skeleton apps and later downloading extra functionality after Verify Apps has stopped looking.
Also remember, security isn’t only about PHAs being installed. It’s also about the ability to easily obtain information from stolen devices, reverse engineer apps and other such activities that can cause nefarious deeds without even installing an app under Google’s Verify Apps.