Android and iOS are two of the leading mobile platforms today, and they each have their own selling point. Both Android and Apple continue to update privacy and security features to combat the latest threats and vulnerabilities.
But which of these mobile operating systems wins in terms of security? Some people claim it’s iOS, some support Android, and others feel it’s an equal share. So Apple vs. Android: Which is More Secure?
1. Contribution source code
Separate lines for Android and iOS when it comes to contributing source code. How does this affect their security?
Apple only maintains iOS internally; Nobody has access to the iOS source code besides Apple. While the source code remains proprietary to the company, this approach has its pros and cons.
While only the authorized authority, i.e. Apple, manages all the algorithms in the iOS source code, it is not subject to outright criticism and improvement. So there may be a little dynamism of ideas. The result is that they may push a version with a vulnerability, and attackers may have exploited that vulnerability before it was discovered. An example of this is the zero-click iMessage attack that was spotted in iOS versions older than 14.8. Cybercriminals exploited this vulnerability to install Pegasus spyware on users’ devices until Apple fixed it in its iOS 14.8 release.
It is possible for someone to notice this defect if it is an open source operating system.
Except for Google Play Services and some other services, Android is mostly open source. Updated Android source code is in the Android Open-Source Project (AOSP), so smartphone manufacturers and app developers can get it and modify it to suit the needs of their users.
This makes the platform transparent and able to receive better contributions in terms of security and bug fixes. However, this could also be a gateway for threat actors or poorly secured software to introduce malware into your Android smartphone.
Given the flexible scope of the Android platform, app developers and manufacturers are responsible for maintaining security and fixing vulnerabilities in their software. This approach focuses more on application security rather than the security of the platform itself.
This is why installing an unsafe app from the Play Store may introduce malware to your device.
2. Are Google Play and App Store safe?
The Android App Store and the iOS App Store also determine how secure both platforms are. Let’s take a look at the principles of each store.
Google Play Store on Android
Since Android is open source, there is no strict examination of the apps that Android developers push into the Play Store. Almost always, almost any app finds its way into the Play Store as long as there is a manifest file that holds its metadata.
Although Google uses Play Protect to scan apps before users download them, those apps are already in the Play Store. So users are more likely to ignore security warnings, even if there is malware.
Apple App Store
On the other hand, Apple closely examines the app using the app review program before allowing it to enter the App Store. This allows them to test applications manually using employee (i.e. human) judgment and a use case simulator to detect memory leaks, security vulnerabilities, adherence to standards, and more.
Unlike Android, iOS developers need to customize their apps according to the security standards of the iOS platform. It is not uncommon for Apple to reject any app that does not meet its specifications.
This security check makes the App Store more secure than the Play Store. You are more likely to pick up malware from the Play Store; You are unlikely to do so from the App Store.
3. Network traffic and location tracking
Network traffic tracking apps monitor the websites and apps you visit and keep track of what you like. Location data is another piece of information that third-party apps use to personalize ads. Besides, cybercriminals may take advantage of these programs to introduce malware into your device or hack your online accounts.
How do these operating systems handle network and location tracking?
Features that help users protect users’ privacy have been around since the release of iOS 12. This feature has been a staple of Apple with further improvements on the line from iOS 14.5 to iOS 15.
This allows you to control how apps access your internet and location data with just a few clicks here and there. However, Apple enhanced this in iOS 15.2 and later, giving users the ability to monitor app activities and how they use specific permissions.
Apps don’t know what you’re going to do on your iPhone and can’t see your online behavior, so you’re less likely to encounter unwanted ad notifications on iOS devices.
Although Android has been host to network and location tracking apps in the past, it has improved to combat this vulnerability.
For example, operating systems like XOS from Infinix have received updates that allow users to choose app permissions preferences. Samsung also features a privacy dashboard similar to Android 12, where you can set and monitor app permissions. If you are using a Samsung, Infinix, or any Android 12 smartphone, you will notice that you can continue to track the app. This works in a way to capture all promotions, social news, and more – in case they are blocked using the feature. This makes up for Android’s history of loud and intrusive ads.
But still, despite the efforts to create a more secure environment in Android, some apps still slip through these barriers. Besides, Android phones share an open source platform, so desperate app developers can bypass blocking algorithms in the source code at some points. This is difficult to achieve on iOS.
4. How often do you update Apple and Android?
Software updates offer many benefits, including vulnerability patches and user experience improvements. Let’s see the pattern of updates in iOS and Android.
At the OS level, Android is currently running on an annual update schedule, as evident in its release pattern, from Pie (Android 9.0) in 2018 to the latest Android 12, codenamed Snow Cone. This is partly due to the fragmentation within the Android community. However, many smartphones have update support, and you cannot update them as new Android versions come out after a year.
However, manufacturers like Oppo, Samsung, Google Pixels, and OnePlus, among others, have expanded support for the security update in flagship devices. This is the case for many other Android devices that support the Android One program.
Apple focuses on a few device releases a year, so it’s easy to release updates more frequently than is found in its Android counterpart.
Apple also has an extended update life of five years, and even most early iPhones could update and run iOS 15 adequately. Undoubtedly, iOS update pattern is more frequent than Android. Between September 2021 and the time of writing, Apple has released up to five iOS updates.
Most of these updates are minor security and user experience updates, but they keep iOS safe in the long run. Sorry Android, but iOS wins this round.
5. Advanced security features
Both iOS and Android offer impressive ranges of security features, such as fingerprint protection and Face ID. However, Android and iOS seem to view security differently.
Android security features like Find My Device (similar to Find My in iOS), Google Play Protect, Lock Down Mode, and the ability to turn off USB debugging give it exclusivity. A notable advanced iOS security feature is iCloud Keychain that allows users to manage their credentials in an encrypted vault using email masking. Additionally, Apple takes pride in the fact that users can save passwords and credit card credentials on their iPhone without compromise.
Several built-in security features shipped with iOS 15. However, each platform has its own security focus in this regard, and we can’t ignore that.
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 any security software they place does not make them completely immune to malware. It is up to individuals, too. If you 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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