Security Manager's Journal: Android panic

A couple of years ago, I implemented a technology that makes iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones and tablets more secure by giving us access control, encryption, passwords and remote-wipe capability. Since then, at a time when smartphone usage at my company was booming, we haven't had any data security breaches related to smartphones and tablets. Although some of those devices have been lost or stolen, such occurrences have never led to a breach, thanks to the ability to remotely wipe those devices. I've loved the peace of mind that has given me.

But now my peace of mind has been shattered.

As the use of mobile devices has grown at my company, our smartphones and tablets of choice have been Android-based phones. They are so much cheaper than Apple products, it has been hard to justify spending a lot more for iPads and iPhones. And our security record with the Android devices has been so good that there was no reason to second-guess that decision.

Until now.

Lately, the Android platform has come under attack. Serious vulnerabilities have been found in the Android operating system that can compromise devices and the data on them, regardless of any security software that may be running. For example, Google recently released a security update to fix a vulnerability in the Android security model that can be used to plant Trojan horse malware in regular applications, which an attacker can use to break into the device and steal data. Known as the "master key" vulnerability, this particular security hole has been lurking around undetected for the last four years. Google's fix isn't permanent, though. And now a second master key vulnerability has been discovered.

If the underlying operating system isn't secure, the security software running on it can be bypassed or compromised, so there's no longer any guarantee that data on Android-based smartphones can be protected. This comes as some surprise, because open-source operating systems like Linux, FreeBSD and OpenBSD have historically been more secure than proprietary operating systems like those made by Apple, because there is a significant amount of review that happens for every line of code in the operating system, as well as the entire architecture and security model. But this doesn't seem to be the case with Android. And the apps themselves are not controlled or tracked, so attackers can put malware-laced software on the Android Market with impunity. And I don't have a very effective way to control what apps my users download. If people download malicious apps from the Android Market, my company's data might be put at risk.

In addition to the risks posed by the attack surface of the Android operating system and the apps that can be downloaded from the Android Market, we have to worry about malware as well. Malware attacks on Android devices are on the rise. As a result, antivirus software is now a necessity on Android devices. And my experience with antivirus software has not been good. On many occasions, I have experienced zero-day infections on Windows systems on my company's network that the antivirus software was not able to contain. So I've built a complex array of network-based and host-based security products for a multilayered defensive strategy to compensate for the shortcomings of antivirus software. I don't have the same options on Android platforms.

So what do I do now? My company has already invested a substantial amount of money in Android-based smartphones, so I have to decide what position to take on those pre-existing devices. And as each day passes and more security problems are found with the Android platform, I'm beginning to think my position is going to have to be against Android. If that turns out to be the case, then not only will I lose face by reversing my earlier position supporting the use of Android smartphones and tablets on my company's network, but I'll also incur a significant cost to replace those Android devices by switching to Apple. And that's a real dilemma.

This week's journal is written by a real security manager, "J.F. Rice," whose name and employer have been disguised for obvious reasons. Contact him at

Join in

To join in the discussions about security, go to

Read more about security in Computerworld's Security Topic Center.

Join the CSO newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags AppleMobile/WirelessNetworkingsecuritywirelessmobileMalware and Vulnerabilities

More about AppleApple.GoogleLinuxOpenBSDTopic

Show Comments

Featured Whitepapers

Editor's Recommendations

Solution Centres

Stories by J.F. Rice

Latest Videos

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: The Human Factor - Your people are your biggest security weakness

    ​Speakers: David Lacey, Researcher and former CISO Royal Mail David Turner - Global Risk Management Expert Mark Guntrip - Group Manager, Email Protection, Proofpoint

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Current ransomware defences are failing – but machine learning can drive a more proactive solution

    Speakers • Ty Miller, Director, Threat Intelligence • Mark Gregory, Leader, Network Engineering Research Group, RMIT • Jeff Lanza, Retired FBI Agent (USA) • Andy Solterbeck, VP Asia Pacific, Cylance • David Braue, CSO MC/Moderator What to expect: ​Hear from industry experts on the local and global ransomware threat landscape. Explore a new approach to dealing with ransomware using machine-learning techniques and by thinking about the problem in a fundamentally different way. Apply techniques for gathering insight into ransomware behaviour and find out what elements must go into a truly effective ransomware defence. Get a first-hand look at how ransomware actually works in practice, and how machine-learning techniques can pick up on its activities long before your employees do.

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: Get real about metadata to avoid a false sense of security

    Speakers: • Anthony Caruana – CSO MC and moderator • Ian Farquhar, Worldwide Virtual Security Team Lead, Gigamon • John Lindsay, Former CTO, iiNet • Skeeve Stevens, Futurist, Future Sumo • David Vaile - Vice chair of APF, Co-Convenor of the Cyberspace Law And Policy Community, UNSW Law Faculty This webinar covers: - A 101 on metadata - what it is and how to use it - Insight into a typical attack, what happens and what we would find when looking into the metadata - How to collect metadata, use this to detect attacks and get greater insight into how you can use this to protect your organisation - Learn how much raw data and metadata to retain and how long for - Get a reality check on how you're using your metadata and if this is enough to secure your organisation

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them

    CSO Webinar: How banking trojans work and how you can stop them Featuring: • John Baird, Director of Global Technology Production, Deutsche Bank • Samantha Macleod, GM Cyber Security, ME Bank • Sherrod DeGrippo, Director of Emerging Threats, Proofpoint (USA)

    Play Video

  • 150x50

    IDG Live Webinar:The right collaboration strategy will help your business take flight

    Speakers - Mike Harris, Engineering Services Manager, Jetstar - Christopher Johnson, IT Director APAC, 20th Century Fox - Brent Maxwell, Director of Information Systems, THE ICONIC - IDG MC/Moderator Anthony Caruana

    Play Video

More videos

Blog Posts