There’s a lot of debate out there about whether iOS or Android is better. Both systems have their devoted fans and their frenetic detractors. This post is not meant to jump into that debate. It’s simply meant to look at some of Android’s latest security and give you some advice on how to protect your information on your Android device. However, it’s not possible to talk about Android security without mentioning the fragmentation issue.
iOS and Android OS Fragmentation
Let’s look at the OS use breakdown to illustrate what I mean:
|iOS Version||Percentage of Users*||Android OS Version||Percentage of Users*|
|iOS 8||60%||KitKat (4.4)||33.9%|
|iOS 7||35%||Jelly Bean (4.3)||7%|
|iOS 6 or Earlier||5%||Jelly Bean (4.2)||20.4%|
|Jelly Bean (4.1)||21.3%|
|Ice Cream Sandwich||7.8%|
There is also some additional fragmentation of the Android market because of its open source nature. Each company’s version of an Android OS incarnation tends to be slightly different from the others. Because of this fragmentation of the Android OS ecosystem, they tend to be subject to much higher levels of security vulnerability.*iOS data current as of November 24, 2014,1 Android data current as of December 1, 2014. Any version of the Android OS with less than 0.1% distribution, including Lollipop (5.0) was not given.2
Nevertheless, Android 4.4 and 4.3 have made significant advances with their security features. For example, Security-Enhanced Linux (SELinux) is becoming more and more incorporated into the systems. According to the Android site, “…Android uses SELinux to enforce mandatory access control (MAC) over all processes, even processes running with root/superuser privileges (a.k.a. Linux capabilities). SELinux enhances Android security by confining privileged processes and automating security policy creation.”3
With the ongoing rollout of Android 5.0, which is nicknamed Lollipop, SELinux will become a mandatory policy. The Android site states, “In the Android 5.0 [Lollipop] release, Android moves to full enforcement of SELinux. This builds upon the permissive release of 4.3 and the partial enforcement of 4.4. In short, Android is shifting from enforcement on a limited set of crucial domains…to everything (more than 60 domains).”3
Looking at the improved security measures implemented in newer versions of the Android OS, I would suggest that anyone currently running Android 4.2 or earlier update their OS to a newer version.
Best Practices for Android OS Security
There are, of course, some best practices that you should implement in order to improve the security of your Android device. I’ve listed three of them here for your use.
1. Encrypt Your Device
Google announced a few months ago that Android 5.0 will have encryption enabled by default. However, if you’re not one of the less than .1% of Android users who currently has Android 5.0, you’ll have to do this yourself. Don’t worry, it’s not too difficult if you’re running Android 4.3 or 4.4.
No matter who you are, you have data on your phone or tablet that you don’t want falling into the wrong hands. Encryption scrambles the data on your device using a cryptographic key so that the data is useless without your key. Unfortunately, encryption can slow down older devices and impact battery life. It’s also not foolproof, but it makes it a lot harder on data thieves, so many of them won’t bother trying to crack it.
Encryption can be implemented by accessing the Security menu in your device’s Settings screen. One annoyance is that you will have to use your PIN or password every time you open the device, but I think that’s a small price to pay for added security. Also, make sure you have your phone or tablet plugged in when you start the initial encryption, because it can up to half an hour and you can lose your data if your device shuts off in the middle of encryption.
2. Use the SIM Lock Feature
No matter how well you set up the protections on your phone or tablet, they don’t apply to your SIM card. Your SIM card holds your phone number, billing information, security data, and other bits of information. It can be removed from your device and installed into a different one rather easily. Implementing the SIM lock feature helps prevent people from accessing your account information or using your data plan by stealing your SIM card.
First, you should be aware that you’ll need to get the default PIN from your service provider in order to set this up. Once you have the default PIN, the SIM lock feature can also be implemented by accessing the Security menu in your device’s Settings screen. This security feature resides on the SIM card, not your device, so the data on the SIM card is secure without the PIN.
3. Use the Android Device Manager
As Google’s support page says, “If you lose your Android device associated with your Google Account, Android Device Manager can help you find, lock, and erase it.”6 Having these options is very important to security if your device is lost or stolen. But it doesn’t matter if it can be done if you don’t activate Android Device Manager. This can be done through Google Settings on your device.
It’s a good idea to activate both the “remotely locate this device” function and the “allow remote lock and factory reset” function. The second function allows you to reset the device remotely so that it no longer contains any of your data if your device has been stolen.
With the world we live in, I’m glad to see that Android and Apple are both implementing more and more security features on their phones and tablets. I hope you’ll begin using these security options on your Android device to protect yourself and your data from unscrupulous people.