The Malware minefield that is Android7/13/2016
Why is it that we’re surprised when a relatively new piece of technology turns out to be permeable to wicked acts? Yes, you can hack planes, cars, cash registers, televisions, refrigerators and even wristwatches. If you have yet to understand why that is, the foundation of hacking is this: Anything that has a computer incorporated can (and probably will) be hacked. So, when headlines are grabbed by computer virus outbreaks or “surprising” platform hacks, it’s because the general population has no idea how many computers we are surrounded by. Case in point: smartphones.
At least twice a year, headlines are made about Android security breaches. Imagine that an operating system built with open source principles in mind —forked across nearly a dozen manufacturer-specific devices — is subject to nefariously-minded programmers. If you didn’t know what that sentence meant, the general idea is that Android phones are akin to a rural neighborhood where everyone keeps their doors unlocked, and for some reason the blueprints to nearly every home are posted in the town square.
That is a bit reductive, but whereas the iPhone is designed with a flawless locked design, Android is fashioned so the user can customize his or her specific desires. This open framework has resulted in relatively pervasive nasty malware concerns with equally frightening names such as “Stagefright,” “Dendroid,” “DroidKungFu,” “Brain Test” and recent villainous software named “Hummingbird.”
While Hummingbird has a rather pleasant name, its 10 million victims will attest the actual malware is anything but. Like many other miscreant pieces of software, Hummingbird is downloaded through careless application installation, attachment downloading or visiting websites (questionable pornography) that don’t have your digital safety in mind. Once integrated into a device, Hummingbird copies and shares your private data and generates revenue for its developer via phantom ad clicks and illicit app installation. As damaging as that can be, remedying Hummingbird affliction is not pleasurable either, as your choices are generally memory wiping and factory resetting a device or throwing in the towel and buying a completely new phone.
All of these Android landmines act like the perfect advertisement for buying Apple, but only the foolish would believe iOS devices are free and clear of viruses, malware, ransomware and trojan horses. iPhones have been afflicted with similar attacks from the same iniquitous programmers as Android’s offenders. Yingmob — the digital Chinese outfit connected to Hummingbird — has attacked the Apple marketplace with the same ferocity. Yingmob’s misdeeds have accounted for more than 85 million distressed devices spread across the iOS and Android platforms.
Still, the Android’s malware issues are real and have become so bothersome that tech firms and security outfits have started issuing warnings. As it stands, the only recommended Android phones for security concerns are Google’s own Nexus line of devices and Samsung, the top Android seller. HTC, LG, Huawei, Sony, Motorola, Amazon and a few others make decent phones. However, due to their severe customization of the Android devices, operating system security patches do not come as quickly from Google as are necessary to keep up with the criminals. Seeing as Nexus has the flagship devices, and Samsung has the largest market share, they receive updates almost as soon as they are developed, hence being the most secure devices in the Android ecosystem.
Of course, be it a phone or a laptop, computers are only as secure as the behaviors of the operator. The best way to stay away from maladies like Hummingbird is to visit only trusted websites, download attachments only from people you know and emails from them that make logical sense, install programs from Android or Apple-certified app stores, and stay away from web pornography. If not for you, do it for your device. CV
Patrick Boberg is a central Iowa creative media specialist. Follow him on Twitter @PatBoBomb.