Thursday, May 16, 2013

Don't Worry, Be Happy

A friend of mine recently asked, “I'm leaning toward purchasing a Google Nexus tablet, but I want to ask: What kind of virus protection will I need? Would an iPad be less vulnerable? How vulnerable are tablets anyway? I assume since they are computers they must also be affected.
Thanks for any advice you can offer.”

A quick refresher: There are essentially two kinds of tablets out there: Those made by Apple (the iPad), and those running Google’s operating system called Android. Various manufacturers make Android tablets. Only Apple makes iPads. (Microsoft has a tablet, too, but I’m still mad at them over Windows 8 so they can kiss it.) An iPad is essentially a large version of an iPhone. An Android tablet is essentially a large version of an android phone.

At the moment, viruses on tablets aren’t nearly as much of a concern as viruses on desktop computers. In fact, I know of only one instance of a virus found on an Apple device and it was fixed quickly. There have been a many reports of viruses on Android devices. This problem is bound to get bigger as more and more people use tablets. So an Android is more susceptible to attacks. But should you really worry about it? Not yet.

The biggest risks right now are infected “Apps” for both platforms. Apple designed their App Store as a “sandbox” for pre-tested apps. Apple has a very thorough screening process and weeds out the miscreants so a malicious developer simply cannot post software to the Apple App Store to have it downloaded by victims. The Android Play Store isn’t quite as walled-in as Apple but they are still pretty good at stomping out malicious apps so the risk is quite low.

However, Apple users can “Jailbreak” their devices which allows them to install apps from sources outside of Apple’s App Store. Android users can do so without messing with the tablet. People who tinker with their device without understanding the risks are a bit more susceptible to virus attacks than others.

All this is bound to get worse as time goes on so if you are the type that will click on every bit of "free smiley faces" software or consider yourself gullible or susceptible to being tricked into installing stuff on your home computer, you will be at risk no matter what you choose. I have clients that bring their computer into my shop 3 or 4 times a year. Those people are the ones that will have problems with their tablets in the future. But if you've never had a virus on your home computer, chances are you are a pretty safe user and no need to worry.

So, which one is safest? I am an Android fan because they are not only cheaper but generally have more features. But for safety, I’d have to give a slight advantage to the iPad and balance that with the fact that virus infections are far, far down the list of things to ponder when purchasing a tablet or phone.


Sir Cake said...

Slight advantage? Unless you "jailbreak" your iPad, the only apps you can put on your device are those approved by Apple. The folks at Apple are very good at catching potential problems before they get into the App Sore, and the ones that do get through get removed very quickly. The iOS environment itself is also designed to sandbox every app. One app cannot even talk to another without permission, and no app can affect or change the code in another. On the other hand, Android users (and apps) can easily get to the 'root' of the OS, opening up huge security holes.

I love Android for the freedom it gives users. Many of the things that the iPad prevents you from doing are allowed, if not encouraged, in the Android environment. But that greater freedom comes with greater risk.

Jim Fisher said...

Hello Sir!

All true. Unfortunately, I am limited to almost exactly 500 words for the newspaper version of the column and could not explain all that. The point that I was trying to get across is that both platforms are relatively safe at the moment but I expect that to change and become less safe over time. I assert that, for the average user, virus safety isn't really a big concern but I do give Apple the advantage.

And, true, the Apple's strategy--because of their stringent requirements--probably will make the Apple product vastly more secure than Android as the market becomes more saturated. But at the moment, it's just not a big deal.

As you know, the Play Store was assembled rather quickly in order to compete with Apple. The submission requirements are getting a bit more stringent but do have a ways to go before they catch up with the security of Apple stuff. Still, a malicious app on the Play Store is very rare.

And I of course agree with you that the freedom of the Android platform is very important for someone like you and I. For most people? Not so much.

Thanks for the response!

Anonymous said...

"The folks at apple..."? Like there are actual people over there. Right.

Anonymous said...

Just about the stupidest blog I've ever read, with the exception of the other 300,000 blogs that say the same things that you do, in various phrasings. Who cares.

Jim Fisher said...

I have a heckler! Awesome!

This blog is a re-posting of my newspaper articles. They are geared towards folks who do not read technical blogs. As with many of my articles, they are often a reflection of the questions I get over and over at my shop. So, yes, of course you can read this same kind of stuff anywhere and everywhere. But my newspaper readers don't often read everything anywhere.