You’ve read the headlines and heard the rhetoric: 97% of mobile malware is on Android, Android malware threat rears its head again, Android malware spies on you even after phone is shut down, and more. Based on those headlines, you’d think that Android is a cesspool of filth and simply having a phone powered by the OS opens you to a host of problems – problems that might be solved by switching to another platform from another company. Unfortunately, the headlines are fantastical, and the “problem” with Android malware doesn’t really exist – and never has.
“But Joe, Google says it just cut malware in half!”
You’re not wrong. According to a recent report by Google, the steps that it’s taken to improve the safety and security of Android users has resulted in a significant drop. That fact is being spun by many sources as proof of Android’s vulnerability, and cited as reason to abandon the open source OS for something proprietary and closed. But that’s not the whole story.
In 2014, less than 1% of Android-powered devices had harmful apps installed on them. That means only one out of every 100 devices had any form of malware. Digging deeper, those users who only installed apps through the Google Play Store (rather than sideloading them) were even fewer: 0.15% – 3 out of every two thousand devices.
Looking at those figures, if you want to keep yourself “safe”, don’t root and don’t install apps from sources outside the Google Play Store. That’s the message most other articles are spreading. That’s not the message that we’re advocating! You and I, we’re Power Users, we like rooting. We live to sideload apps. We live dangerously!
But how “dangerous” is our Power User lifestyle? According to the same report, including those who rooted their phones or tablets, well under 0.5% of us acquired potentially harmful apps. When you add in those who sideloaded apps from sources outside Google’s Play Store and the number jumps to a horrifying “less than 1.5%”. Putting that in perspective, only 3 of the most at-risk users out of 100 were infected in 2014. That’s the number that people are losing their minds over. 3 out of 100.
No, folks, malware isn’t a problem on Android. Malware has never been a problem on Android. The “problem”, if you can call it that, might be better assigned to overzealous reporting, and stories that try to sensationalize a wimpy one-point-five percent.
If you want to be safe, don’t install apps from untrusted sources. It’s that simple. If that sounds familiar, it should. It’s the same advice that security experts have been giving us since we started seeing potentially harmful apps on desktop. They’ve been toeing that line for years. The same advice holds true on our smartphones, or tablets, and all other computers – regardless of the operating system that powers it.