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Your Android phone may be less secure than an iPhone

An internal memo put out by the Department of Homeland Security claims that Android phones are far more susceptible to malware attacks when compared to other smartphones. By stark contrast, iOS only accounted for a fraction of a percent of malware attacks.

The memo, titled "Threats to Mobile Devices Using the Android Operating System," breaks down malware threats by smartphone operating system, focusing on the disparity between Android and its top competitors. Android accounted for 79 percent of all malware attacks, while iOS was just affected by 0.7 percent of attacks.

While Android is the most widely-adopted smartphone operating system worldwide, naturally attracting the most attention from criminals, iOS still makes up a large chunk of the US smartphone market and isn't as vulnerable. The next most vulnerable operating system was Symbian, a now mostly defunct OS that powered Nokia phones before Windows Phone 8 arrived. It suffers from 19 percent of threats to mobile operating systems.

According to the memo, a large part of Android's susceptibility to malware attacks is related to the fragmentation of the operating system. In other words, many Android phones in use are still running older versions of Android OS which lack security updates that the later versions have.

While the latest version of Android, 4.3 Jelly Bean, came out a few months ago, many of the affected Android phones are still running versions as old as 2.3, released nearly three years ago. Unfortunately for most users, they simply can't update their phones to the latest and most secure version since updates are often determined by phone manufacturers and carriers rather than Google itself.

The memo also lays out the different methods of malware attack, ranging from the installation of fake apps not approved by Google, to text messages that add charges to your bill without your knowledge. Interestingly, this memo was not intended for the public, instead acting as a warning for employees of Homeland Security to be aware of potential threats to sensitive information through the use of personal smartphones.

F-Secure chart from March showing the same data

The data also seems to be related to, if not directly copied from, a report from earlier this year put out by Finnish computer security and antivirus software firm, F-Secure. Their report compared data from 2010-2012 and concluded with the same numbers used in the Homeland Security memo.

Photo: Debs