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This year, for the first time, smartphones overtook Windows computers and laptops in terms of malware activity. That’s according to the report published in March by the Nokia Security Centre. And it’s a growing problem that could affect any device, regardless of operating system (OS).

Mobile security threats come in many forms, including trojans, ransomware and malware. At a time when mobile devices are increasingly central to business, it's vital to be informed about these threats

Ask any techie and you’ll probably be on the receiving end of some opinions about which device is the most secure. We sorted the facts from the hearsay.

The dangers

The bottom line is that malware and other mobile threats can infect any device, as has been seen recently. Android faced down Stagefright last year, a flaw that impacted 95% of Android devices and exposed a potential vulnerability in the OS. But Apple is not immune – also in the past year, they had to deal with YiSpecter and XcodeGhost, which allowed apps with malicious codes to appear in the official iOS app store.

When considering differences between devices, two factors are key. The first is the Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) Bit key associated with the device. This is an encryption standard considered standard. Basically, the longer the key, the harder the cipher is to crack. The second is the security of the device's applications. 

How’s about them Apples?

Many people believe that Apple devices are inherently more secure than their Android counterparts, but this isn’t necessarily the case.

Apple has a good reputation for security, strictly vetting all the apps on their App Store and placing restrictions on app developers. Apple also makes sure their users download all the updates they push – if you’re an iPhone or iPad user, you know how often you’re reminded to update. All this helps them keep ahead of malware.

From iOS 9, Apple has used an AES 256-bit key.

But that doesn’t mean you as an Apple owner can relax your guard – in 2014, Apple realised that there were multiple fake apps in the App Store that were infected with malware.

Not many people can have missed Apple’s most embarrassing hacking episode, when personal photos of celebrities including Jennifer Lawrence were obtained by exploiting a gap in Apple’s security – in this case, the Find My iPhone service, which allowed hackers into her iCloud account. In typical Apple fashion, they speedily rolled out an upgrade to address this vulnerability.

The case for Android

Android’s biggest challenge is that the OS naturally has to be more adaptable across a wide range of devices from different manufacturers.

It’s also more popular than iOS, which makes it a bigger target than iOS devices.

Unlike iOS, Android allows you to download apps from outside the app store, which means they have less control. With the thousands of apps created every day, it’s very difficult to catch malicious apps in time before a few unsuspecting people have downloaded them.

Also, unlike Apple, Android has less control over which version of the OS people are using, and older or lower-cost devices may not use the latest (currently Marshmallow). This makes it harder to roll out much-needed security updates.

However, several manufacturers have created their own security software that combats many vulnerabilities – Samsung’s Knox is an example of this.

What about BlackBerry?

Until Apple vamped up their security settings, BlackBerry was the device of choice for most governments – even Obama was packing a BlackBerry. Their next-level encryption (not to mention exciting new devices) still make them a solid and reliable choice for businesses looking to keep secure.

Seeing through Windows

Windows phones come with encryption options that the user must turn on – they are disabled by default. But ultimately its greatest asset is Windows’ relatively small customer base – there are fewer apps in the app store and less incentive for hackers to create malware for them.

The bottom line

Ultimately, all devices have pros and cons in terms of security. Your best bet is to install good antivirus software that provides another line of defence against malicious software.

Vodacom has partnered with Norton by Symantec, the world’s leader in antivirus solutions, to offer cost-effective and flexible options to keep your data secure, no matter which device you choose. 

Vodacom Business also offers a comprehensive suite of security solutions to help businesses manage the challenges that come with the era of bring your own device.

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