Q: I’m trying to decide on a new phone. Is it true that iPhones are safer than Android smartphones?
A: The dangers associated with using a smartphone continue to grow, but the relative dangers compared to using your desktop or laptop are still pretty minimal.
It’s not uncommon to see salacious headlines proclaiming huge percentage increases in mobile threats, but when you start with a really small number, these “huge” increases aren’t that significant in reality.
Many of the real threats to a mobile device comes from allowing a malicious app to make its way onto it.
Users that “jailbreak” or “root” their devices so they can install apps from wherever they want are at a much higher risk than the average user.
Often, the “threats” that you may see reported are focused on markets outside of the U.S., where installing apps from third-parties is much more common.
If you stick to using the associated app store for either platform, your chances of installing a malicious app are minuscule.
If we look at the instances of malicious apps making their way into both the Apple App Store and Google Play Store, statistically speaking Apple has less of a problem, but neither service has had any real rampant issues with malicious apps, so this statistical difference is negligible.
A real threat
The single biggest real-world threat to your smartphone is having it lost or stolen, which has nothing to do with the platform. Making sure you have some sort of screen lock setup, and installing a solid mobile tracking app, are a must.
Tracking programs are available from Apple and Google, but I prefer the basic tools from the Prey Project, which are free for up to three devices.
Forgetting to securely wipe the data from a device you’ll no longer be using is another very common security failure we see.
Social engineering is simply using human interaction to trick users into bypassing normal security processes — a way of getting you to let your guard down.
As mobile threats go, you’re much more likely to be compromised from a clever phishing scam then you are from a rogue app, which again affects both platforms equally.
I’ve preached the “guilty until proven innocent” approach with email and social media on computers for years, and the same approach should be taken with smartphones.
Apple does excel in one area of security: the updating of the operating system. Since Apple is the only one that makes hardware that runs iOS, they more tightly control the distribution of updates to their users.
The Android platform is open and can be used by any number of hardware manufacturers, but that also means that Google can’t provide a global security update to all Android users.
Each hardware manufacturer must create their own updates, often different for each type of handset, and distribute them through the various wireless carriers.
These additional layers of complexity often cause long delays in getting security updates distributed, especially with smaller device manufacturers.
Updating your smartphone with security updates is just as important as updating your computer, so no matter which platform you choose, make sure you stay current.
Editor’s note: Ken Colburn is founder and CEO of Data Doctors Computer Services.