Android and iOS are the main mobile platforms today, and each of them has its own selling point. Android and Apple continue to update their privacy and security features to combat the latest threats and vulnerabilities.
But which of these mobile operating systems (OS) wins in terms of security? Some people claim it’s iOS, some support Android, while others think it’s an equal share. So Apple vs Android: which is more secure?
1. Source code contribution
Android and iOS separate the lines when it comes to contributing source code. How does this affect their safety?
Apple only manages its iOS internally; no one else has access to the iOS source code outside of Apple. Although the source code remains private to the company, this approach has advantages and disadvantages.
Although only the authorized authority, i.e. Apple, manages all the algorithms of the iOS source code, it is not subject to open criticism and improvement. There could therefore be little dynamism of ideas. One consequence is that they could push a version with a security flaw, and attackers might have exploited that vulnerability before detection. An example is the iMessage zero-click attack spotted in iOS versions prior to 14.8. Cybercriminals had exploited this vulnerability to install Pegasus spyware on users’ devices until Apple patched it in its iOS 14.8 release.
It is possible that someone noticed this flaw if it was an open source operating system.
With the exception of Google Play Services and a few others, Android is largely open source. Android’s updated source code is in the Android Open Source Project (AOSP), so smartphone makers and app developers can grab it and modify it to suit their users’ needs.
This makes the platform transparent and able to receive better contributions regarding security and bug fixing. Nevertheless, it could also be a gateway for threat actors or poorly secured software to introduce malware into your Android smartphone.
Given the flexible reach of the Android platform, app developers and makers are responsible for maintaining security and fixing vulnerabilities in their software. Such an approach focuses more on application security than on the security of the platform itself.
This is why installing an unsafe app from the Play Store may introduce malware into your device.
2. Are Google Play and App Store safe?
The Android Play Store and iOS App Store also determine how secure the two platforms are. Let’s look at the principles of each store.
Android’s Google Play Store
Since Android is open-source, there is no strict review of apps pushed by Android developers to the Play Store. Invariably, almost every app ends up in the Play Store as long as there is a manifest file containing its metadata.
Although Google uses Play Protect to filter apps before users download them, these apps are already present on the Play Store. Thus, users are more likely to ignore security warnings, even in the presence of malware.
Apple App Store
On the other hand, Apple closely inspects an app using its app review program before allowing it into the App Store. This allows them to manually test applications using staff (i.e. human) judgment and a use case simulator to detect memory leaks, security vulnerabilities, standards compliance, etc. .
Unlike Android, iOS developers must adapt their apps to the security standards of the iOS platform. It’s not uncommon for Apple to reject any app that doesn’t meet its specifications.
This security verification makes the App Store more secure than the Play Store. You are more likely to pick up malware from the Play Store; you’re less likely to do it from the App Store.
3. Network traffic and location tracking
Apps that track your network traffic monitor the sites and apps you visit and track your tastes. And location data is another piece of information used by third-party apps to personalize ads. On top of that, cyber criminals can exploit them to introduce malware into your device or hack into your online accounts.
How do these operating systems handle network and location tracking?
Features that help users protect user privacy have been around since the release of iOS 12. This feature has been a staple of Apple with other improvements down the line from iOS 14.5 to iOS 15.
These let you control how apps access your internet and location data with just a few clicks here and there. Apple, however, reinforced this in iOS 15.2 and later, giving users the ability to monitor app activities and how they use granted permissions.
Apps don’t know what you’re doing on your iPhone and can’t see your internet behavior, so you’re unlikely to encounter unsolicited advertising notifications on iOS devices.
Although Android has hosted network and location tracking apps in the past, it has improved to combat this flaw.
For example, operating systems like Infinix’s XOS have received updates that allow users to choose app permission preferences. Samsung also offers a privacy dashboard similar to Android 12, where you can set and monitor app permissions. If you are using Samsung, Infinix or any other smartphone running Android 12, you will notice that you can control app tracking. It works in a way to capture all the ad promotions, social news, etc., if you block them using the feature. This compensates for Android’s ad and intruder history.
That said, despite efforts to create a more secure environment on Android, some apps still sneak through these blockers. Also, Android phones share an open-source platform, so desperate app developers can bypass blocking algorithms in the source code at times. This is much more difficult to achieve on iOS.
4. How often are Apple and Android updated?
Software updates have many benefits, including bug fixes and user experience improvements. Let’s see the pattern of updates in iOS and Android.
At the operating system level, Android currently follows an annual update schedule, as evidenced by its release release pattern, starting with Pie (Android 9.0) in 2018 through to the newest Android 12, named Snow Cone. . And that’s partly due to fragmentation within the Android community. However, many smartphones support updates and you cannot update them because new versions of Android come out after a year.
Nevertheless, manufacturers like Oppo, Samsung, Google Pixels, and OnePlus, among others, have extended support for security updates in flagship devices. This is the case with many other Android devices that support the Android One program.
Apple focuses on a few device releases per year, so it’s easy to release updates more frequently than in its Android counterpart.
Apple also has an extended update life of up to five years, and even most of its early iPhones can update and run iOS 15 easily. Undoubtedly, iOS update pattern is more frequent than Android. Between September 2021 and the time of this writing, Apple has released up to five iOS updates.
Most of these updates are minor security and user experience updates, but they help maintain the integrity of iOS security over the long term. Sorry Android, but iOS wins this round.
5. Advanced Security Features
iOS and Android offer impressive ranges of security features, such as fingerprint and Face ID protection. That said, Android and iOS seem to view security differently.
Android security features such as Find My Device (similar to Find My in iOS), Google Play Protect, Lock Down mode, and the ability to stop USB debugging give it uniqueness. A notable advanced iOS security feature is iCloud Keychain which allows users to manage their credentials in an encrypted vault using Hide My Email. Additionally, Apple prides itself on the fact that users can save passwords and credit card credentials on their iPhone without compromise.
Lots more built-in security features that come with iOS 15. Still, every platform has its security focus in this regard, and we can’t ignore it.
Android or iOS: which is more secure?
After considering various determining factors, iOS is ahead of Android when it comes to operating system security. However, each platform caters to specific user goals, and no matter what security program they put in place, they don’t completely immunize them against malware. It also depends on the individuals. If you ever have to choose between Android and iPhone, all that matters, in the end, is your primary goal behind choosing either platform.
iPhone vs Android: Which is Right for You?
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