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Android vs. iOS: 2021 security face-off

Jan 02, 2021 · 5 min read

Android vs. iOS: 2021 security face-off

You’ve probably noticed how Android and iOS smartphones are taking over the world, but so have cybercriminals. If you value mobile security, you’ll probably want to compare Android vs iOS. Here’s how they measure up across a range of different features:

App marketplace security

Are the App Store and Google Play equally secure?

Android’s open Play Store marketplace is its greatest blessing and its darkest curse. Consumers have far more apps to choose from than on iOS’ App Store, but there’s a far greater chance that hackers can make it onto the platform to distribute malware apps.

Android claims to have made significant strides recently in an effort to curb the amount of malware on its marketplace. The results remain to be seen, but past failures have been shocking. On numerous occasions, highly ranked apps with hundreds of thousands of downloads from the Android app store have been discovered to contain malware.

In addition, Android users can also change their settings to allow apps from outside of the Android app store. This provides an even greater selection of apps, but opens users to an even greater risk of malware.

Apple, on the other hand, keeps a tight rein on its app store. Every app is closely inspected, drastically reducing the number of apps available but also greatly reducing the chance of getting malware. Some users will find iOS’ app store too restricting, and it still isn’t completely impervious to malware, but it is a much safer place.


Even the popularity of an OS can affect how secure it is.

Android has the lion’s share of the market when it comes to mobile devices. In terms of security, however, this is a weakness; more users means more targets for hackers and more reasons to develop malware for Android (the same goes for the Windows computer OS). The smaller number of targets on iOS, as well as its heightened security, make it a somewhat less attractive target for hackers.

There is a silver lining for Android users. Android’s popularity and open marketplace mean that there’s a far wider range of security apps available. The security of your Android OS and device out of the box may vary, but with the right apps, you can take it to the same level of security as iOS or even further.

Device manufacturers

Smartphone security isn't the same across all devices.

Apple is famous for the beautiful (and often-copied) design of its proprietary devices. Because their devices and their OS are inseparable, Apple has far more control over how they work together. iOS users have far fewer choices when it comes to device features, but the integrated design makes security vulnerabilities far less frequent and harder to find.

Android’s open nature means it can be installed on a wide range of devices. Depending on the manufacturer and the model, this can be a good thing or a bad thing. Some devices integrate perfectly with Android while others leave significant security vulnerabilities. Device-based security across Android devices also varies – some offer retinal and fingerprint scanners while others are limited to passwords and patterns.

Updates to patch vulnerabilities

Constant OS updates are one of the main ways that Apple and Google can keep iOS and Android secure. Because Apple strictly controls the devices in its ecosystem, updates are easier to create and distribute. This also means that Apple can usually keep iOS devices updated for longer, generally withdrawing official support after 5 years.

The number of Android devices Google has to serve makes it virtually impossible to keep all of them updated to the same level of security and for the same amount of time and frequency. It also makes it harder to roll those updates out, as they have to be distributed across multiple manufacturers and devices. Updates come out less frequently and devices are supported for less time.

In the iOS vs Android competition, there’s one problem that they both face – stubborn users who refuse to download their updates! In this respect, however, Apple still has an easier time of it. Because everyone’s on a system they control, they can put more pressure on users to update their phones.

OS source code security

The source code of an OS can affect how secure it is.

Both operating systems use a number of similar security features to keep users safe, but Apple closely guards their source code, while Android has made most of their OS open-source.

Android’s open-source nature makes it more easily accessible to a wide variety of developers, but it also makes it easier for hackers to search the source code for vulnerabilities. However, Google is slowly beginning to use this feature to their advantage.

In addition to its own security research, Google has increased the bounties it’s willing to pay to independent security researchers for reporting new vulnerabilities. At a major annual mobile security event in 2017, mobile security researchers failed to collect a single bounty for finding Android hacks.

What do iOS and Android security have in common?

Both iOS and Android have similar built-in security features, including virtual sandboxes that limit the damage that malware apps can do. iOS drive encryption comes standard while Android users must enable this feature. Both OS fully support VPN encryption, which is especially important for mobile devices (NordVPN provides top-of-the-line security to both iOS and Android devices. Secure yourself today!).

iOS vs Android security: The winner is…

Android has been working hard to clean up their act. David Kleidermacher, the head of security for Android at Google, has even said that Android’s security now equals that of its rival, iOS. Until we see those changes borne out in the real world, however, we’re going to have to give it to iOS. In 2018, iOS is still the best OS when it comes to smartphone security. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be improved upon.

With Google hot on its heels, Apple hasn’t been sleeping at the wheel. Apple’s iPhone X features a facial scanner to make sure only you can open your phone. There are serious questions about privacy that still need to be answered, but purely from a security standpoint, this is a powerful new feature.

Whether you use an iPhone or an Android, a VPN is critically important for your phone to stay secure – especially when you connect to sketchy local WiFi! Find out about what NordVPN can do for your smartphone by clicking here.

Daniel Markuson
Daniel Markuson successVerified author

Daniel is a digital privacy enthusiast and an internet security expert. As the blog editor at NordVPN, Daniel is generous with spreading news, stories, and tips through the power of a well-written word.

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