Malware made the leap from PCs to smartphones along with users. It’s always been known that devices running Alphabet Inc’s (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android operating system are much more susceptible to being infected than Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) iPhones. However, the situation may be even worse than we realized.
A mobile security research team posted on Friday that it scanned devices owned by two large companies and found Android malware pre-installed on smartphones from 38 different manufacturers.
That discovery should concern both corporate IT departments, and consumers. And it once again validates Apple’s “controlling” iPhone approach.
Android Malware Illustrates the Downside of Google’s Approach
From the launch of the first iPhone in 2007, Apple retained full control of its iOS operating system and installed it only on its own hardware. Apps can only be downloaded from the App Store and these are checked and vetted by Apple engineers.
With limited hardware configurations, Apple is able to test iOS thoroughly for all iPhone users. The company is aggressive about pushing out new iOS versions (79% of all iPhones are running iOS 10), and in the event of a security issue, it’s able to quickly push out system updates to address it.
With Android, GOOGL took a very different approach from Apple. It went wide open, licensing Android to dozens of different smartphone manufacturers. Users are free to tinker with the operating system and they can download apps from virtually anywhere — not just Google Play. This open approach helped Google to dominate the smartphone industry, with nine out of 10 new smartphones running Android.
But the approach makes smartphone security a nightmare.
Android updates often require manufacturer and/or carrier cooperation. As a result, only 2% of Android devices are running the latest version of Android, while the majority are running software that’s at least several years out of date.
Freedom to install questionable apps plus an older version of the operating system has let Android malware run rampant. At one point it was estimated to account for 97% of all mobile malware.
Check Point’s Pre-Installed Android Malware Discovery
Check Point Software Technologies Ltd. (NASDAQ:CHKP), an IT security company, reported in a Friday blog post that it had scanned the smartphones for two large companies (identified only as “large telecommunications company” and a “multinational technology company”) and discovered Android malware had been pre-installed on smartphones from 38 different hardware manufacturers.
Android malware identified ranged from adware to mobile ransomware capable of encrypting all data on the device until a fee is paid to unlock it. Some had been added to the smartphone ROM, meaning reinstalling Android would not remove it. And none of this malware was downloaded by users. The smartphones arrived at the two companies pre-infected, with installation happening “somewhere along the supply chain.”