Android fans enjoy a lot of flexibility from their smartphones -- but a new study from researchers at the University of Cambridge reveals that it comes at a major cost.
According to the findings, 87.7 percent of Android devices are at risk from at least one major form of malware thanks in large part to delayed security updates from device manufacturers and service providers. Researchers used the Device Analyzer app to gather data from over 20,000 gadgets in their study.
"Unfortunately something has gone wrong with the provision of security updates in the Android market," researchers Daniel R. Thomas, Alastair R. Beresford and Andrew Rice wrote. "Many smartphones are sold on 12–24 month contracts, and yet our data shows few Android devices receive many security updates, with an overall average of just 1.26 updates per year, leaving devices unpatched for long periods of time"
As it happens, the challenge lies in the exact reason most users love Android. There are a lot of Android manufacturers -- think LG, Samsung, Motorola, HTC and so on -- which affords people a bounty of choices when they're shopping for a new device. If you want to go Apple, you get an iPhone. If you're buying an Android, there are many different phones that fit a variety of needs and budgets. But that puts the ball in the manufacturer's court when it comes to security updates.
"Some manufacturers are much better than others however, and our study shows that devices built by LG and Motorola, as well as those devices shipped under the Google Nexus brand are much better than most," Beresford wrote in a blog post about the study.
When you're dealing with iOS, there's only one manufacturer: Apple, a company known for being tough on security. If there's a malware threat to iPhones and iPads, Apple can blast out an update and, in theory, that's the end of it.
If something goes wrong on Android, Google has to identify the problem and deliver a fix to manufacturers, and then those manufacturers have to beam that update to their customers.
You can imagine the problems that presents.
"Our hope is that by quantifying the problem we can help people when choosing a device and that this in turn will provide an incentive for other manufacturers and operators to deliver updates," Beresford wrote.
For now, you could trust the research and consider LG, Motorola and Google Nexus devices the next time you're shopping. As for the Android you have now, always accept security updates when they become available and only install apps from the Google Play store to avoid infecting yourself with malware.
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