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What OS developers could do to improve mobile device users' privacy/security

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Smartphones are great. They have all of your friends' numbers and email addresses, they can surf the web virtually anywhere, and they can even play Angry Birds. But there is one annoying problem with them.

In any app market, such as Apple's App Store or Google's Android Market, there will be a few apps from time to time that may be a little naughty (or downright despicable). They could root your phone, steal your contacts, or use up all of your tiered data plan. How can operating system developers prevent this?

For starters, they could put security software in their OS.

For instance, since Apple has been working with security experts for OS X Lion, they could do the same thing with iOS, making it more secure. However, iOS isn't as insecure as Android is. As much as I love Android, the Market is a complete mess. It is probably filled with hundreds and hundreds of questionable apps that could compromise a user's data, whether that would be contact lists or purchasing apps with a remembered credit card number. 

Another thing that developers could try is to tighten down the app approval process even more. Apple has been known to let inappropriate apps slide in before. Maybe they could extend the app approval process by another week? That would allow some more quality time for the app reviewers to delve deeper into an app's function. 

And for Google? They should simply have rules. There's definitely a compromise that Google could strike between being completely open and completely locked down. And they need to find that compromise quickly, before the problem becomes a disaster.

Has your device ever been compromised in any way? 

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Calob Horton

Calob Horton is an associate editor at Pocketables. He loves all technology, no matter which company it comes from. This unbiased view of the tech world allows him to choose the products that best fit his personal needs and tastes: a Microsoft Surface Pro, a Samsung Galaxy Note 3, and a third-gen iPad.Google+ | Twitter | More posts by Calob | Subscribe to Calob's posts

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4 thoughts on “What OS developers could do to improve mobile device users' privacy/security

  • I’ll try to keep this positive. As an audiophile, I always cringe when a computer hardware enthusiast website tries to review speakers. It’s embarrassing, like listening to somebody who’s not very good at their instrument struggling to play a well-known standard. Even though I feel like my fellow audiophiles can really lose touch with reality when they try to choose and assess review systems, at least they know what they’re talking about and don’t make comments out of turn.

    As a high security expert, I applaud your interest in this topic, but you would have been better off writing an article titled “Why we should care about mobile security”. I also don’t understand why you separate security and privacy into two topics. They’re the same thing. Mobile security is a big topic, and you’re biting off more than you can chew. For example, your relative assessment of iOS and Android are indicative of your level of understanding. As an open platform, Android has been scrutinized and is moderately secure. In contrast, Apple refuses to open its platform up to such scrutiny, even in a very limited way to just a hand-picked selection of advanced, worldwide trusted experts. However, simple off-the-shelf testing and anecdotal reports have revealed that security on iOS is a joke. That’s no surprise. In criminal circles, Apple is synonymous with an unlocked, wide open front door for corporate espionage, which is yet another reason why governments, militaries, and corporations don’t use Apple products (that and the fact that they need more support than just a trip to the local mall). If you eat at a restaurant that’s all about price, convenience and taste then you’re probably not getting much in the way of healthy nutrition. When you use a device that’s all about “user experience”, then your privacy, security, and rights are probably all suffering. Even though vanilla Android is substantially better, once you use any of Google’s services or install an arbitrary app, all bets are off again in terms of your security (which includes privacy). Microsoft, Nokia, Palm, and especially RIM are all the go-to solutions if you care at all about privacy or security. These companies aren’t stupid, and if you don’t think that they can compete with your beloved consumer nonsense then you’re obviously just captivated by a very small number of (relatively unimportant) factors, in which security and privacy aren’t included. Everybody in my fields was particularly crushed when Nokia jumped to Windows 7 because we’re all looking to MeeGo as THE high-security, total privacy solution for mobile computing. Hopefully, we’ll get it into our hands somehow other than shoehorned onto N900s.

    If you’re really interested in this topic, then start thinking about the threat model that you’re worried about and the usage scenarios that make you vulnerable. You’ll quickly find that today’s popular mobile operating systems are popular because today’s typical electronics consumer is an idiot when it comes to topics like security, privacy, and rights. We’re not even talking about the forgivable kind of idiot where they just don’t know. We’re talking about the dumbest of all idiots: those who know better but just don’t care. Using an Apple or Android phone can and does get you fired in my industry (yes, seriously), and so I feel bad for the average consumer who doesn’t have anybody out there protecting them from the vast marketing machine that just wants your on-going money at tremendous personal expense. It would be great to see people start caring about this topic and talking about it, but until people stop voting for the bad guys with their dollars, your feigned interest in security is pretty disingenuous. I know that sounds harsh, out this website tends to be little more than a shopping website that promotes products that have been announced for sale. I admire the effort to write some feature and opinion articles, but this one just seems to be ironic considering what gets promoted here on a daily basis these days. Demand security, and don’t reward the companies until they can give it guaranteed.

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  • Avatar of HalfAsleep

    I think of security and privacy as two separate things.

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  • If there was a way to +1 or “like” this comment I would. In the grand scheme of things, mobile security is a joke right now for any phone that supports an “ecosystem” of sorts. I’m honestly surprised that there haven’t been any big news breaks of someone taking advantage of the ignorance (aside from this recent android malware incident).

    Reply
  • Security and privacy aren’t the same thing, but they are related. Mechanisms to provide increased security or privacy are often unused or rejected by users because they often conflict with what users want to do, too much of a headache to manage, or simply don’t work very well.

    To give a concrete example, when you install an Android app, the Android installer tells you the app wants to use the camera, the internet, etc… do you actually read and think about this or just hit the OK button? This is an example of all three of the above. This popup is getting in your way, it’s often too hard to understand what the implications of granting the app those privileges (and can you just grant a portion of them? if so, which ones?), and really you don’t want to give the app access to the entire internet, only enough so it can upload your high scores to the leaderboard, and definitely not upload your contacts to a Russian website.

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