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Android, like any system, needs to be secured. Thankfully, there are many ways Android protects itself from malware and other security threats.
Besides protecting the software, the physical device must be protected. Obviously, make sure that no one other than the intended users can obtain the phone (gain physical access). Also, Android provides a screen-lock feature that can be configured at "System Settings > Lock Screen" (on Android 4.x). The types of screen locks include
- None - Once the screen is on, the home screen can be seen.
- Swipe - The user must swipe the screen. This is useful to prevent accidental key-presses when not in use (such as "butt-dialing"). This does not prevent a thief from accessing your phone's features.
- Pattern - The user must draw a specific pattern to unlock the phone. This offers security.
- PIN - The user must type the correct PIN number to unlock the phone. This offers more security than "Pattern".
- Password - The user must type the correct password to unlock the phone. This offers more security than "PIN".
Under "System Settings > Security", users can encrypt the phone and/or the SD card. This prevents people from plugging the phone (or SD card) into a computer and viewing the contents. If screen-lock is enabled, people can still view the phone's contents if they are not encrypted.
To prevent malicious attacks over the WiFi or Bluetooth, disable these connection types when not in use. Doing so will also increase battery life.
Only install apps from trusted sources (such as Google Play). On Android systems, the settings for 3rd-party app installations can be found under "System Settings > Security". The "Unknown sources" option should be unchecked to prevent apps from other sources from installing.
When installing an app (whether from Google Play or 3rd-party sources), the app will ask for various permissions during the install process. Be sure to read the requested permissions. If you disagree with an app's request, then select "no" or "cancel". The installation process will be stopped. Apps cannot gain additional privileges after installation or updating. This feature prevents malicious code from hi-jacking an app. This is because the Android system will not allow an app to perform an action it does not have permission to perform.
One way that Android prevents security threats is by running all applications (including trusted ones) in sandbox-mode. A "sandbox" is a special security container that prevents the contained code from using resources that it is not permitted to use. In addition, various permission rules must be obeyed. Another helpful security feature is the secured interprocess communication (when programs talk to each other) which prevents malicious code from changing or listening to important information.
Another powerful security measure is that fact that the Android operating system (Linux kernel, libraries, app runtime+framework, etc.) is on its own partition that is read-only. Also, Android uses Unix-style file permissions (except for FAT32 filesystems).
Android supports many cryptographic and encryption tools and algorithms such as AES, RSA, DSA, SHA, CBC, and ESSIV:SHA256.
Updates usually fix security threats and flaws that were found in apps. However, updates can introduce new security problems. In general, updates are good for most devices and apps, but be aware of the small chance of creating a new security threat.
Even though Android uses the Linux kernel, SELinux does not work for Android for various reasons (like the different userland). However, "SE for Android" is a project that is porting SELinux to Android (http://seandroid.bitbucket.org). This software will run just like SELinux does on the usual Linux systems.
On the Google Play Store, there are various anti-virus apps. Android does not get as many viruses as Windows, but it does get a little more than GNU/Linux (remember, Android uses Dalvik instead of GNU). However, some people may want anti-virus software for their Android system, and others may not. This is more of a matter of personal opinion and needs. Anti-virus software can slow down the system and use up large amounts of resources (exceptions apply).
It is interesting to know that most of Android's security is meant to protect itself, not your personal files. While both are secured, there are more security measures that protect the operating system than the personal files (like pictures, music, contacts, etc.).
NOTE: Android may have some other security measures that may have not been discussed in this article.
In summary, Android is a secure operating system and it has many ways of protecting itself. However, the weakest point of security is the user. As long as the user makes wise choices concerning the installation of apps, physical security, and updates, then the Android system has a high level of security.
NOTE: Some readers may be wondering about iPhone security vs Android security. That topic is beyond the scope of this article.