Google SVP Pichai defends Android smartphone security

By Danny Palmer
28 Feb 2014 View Comments
Sundar Pichai will replace Andy Rubin as head of Android

Sundar Pichai, Google senior vice president for Android, Chrome and Apps has defended the mobile operating system against claims that it is insecure, insisting it is only the most popular target for mobile malware because it is the most-used smartphone operating system.

Pichai made the remarks during a session at Mobile World Congress (MWC) after a delegate made comments about the apparent comparative security of Apple's IOS devices when compared with products running Google's Android OS. It is an idea Pichai said he "respectfully" dismissed as he argued the open nature of Android – and the fact anyone could examine it – makes it more secure.

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"Open platforms historically undergo a lot of scrutiny, but there are a lot of advantages to having an open source platform from a security standpoint. I would argue that it is the best way for a platform to be secure, because every researcher in the world can inspect it, every developer in the world can inspect it, and I think that contributes a lot to Android security," he said.

Pichai went on to insist that Android "was built to be very, very secure", but seemed to acknowledge vulnerabilities could become apparent if devices were running an older version of Android software. However, he insisted, that does not make Android inherently vulnerable to hackers and malware.

"The thing that you're seeing is because Android is an open platform, many people can ship Android in many different ways and so there are some partners when they ship devices, they have an older version of Android," said Pichai. "Sure, you can have a security vulnerability there, but that doesn't mean Android isn't secure. We go to great lengths… to make it secure."

The MWC was told that Android is "very, very secure", if updates to the operating system are applied. Pichai went on to suggest that the reason Android is the target of most unscrupulous mobile attacks is because its widespread use means there are more potential targets for cyber criminals.

"Malware targets where users are," he said. "When you say numbers like 90 per cent of malware is targeting Android, I hate to point out that if you're a smart business person running this malware company, that's what you should do.

"Obviously, you will always see more malware targeting Android because Android is used more than any smartphone platform by a pretty substantial difference. I think that drives a lot of it so I understand that part of it.

"What matters much more is, as a user, if you use Android, are you fundamentally more compromised? We don't think so," he concluded.

Google were forced to issue a transcript of the discussion after translations of one French blog reported Pichai said: "We cannot guarantee that Android is designed to be safe." Google was quick to issue corrections.

Earlier this week it was announced research teams across four UK universities have been given shares of £3m in funding by Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council to help counter the threat of malware distributed through mobile applications. The academics will be examining the Android platform.

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