As Android Grows, Users and Developers Lose

A new research report indicates that as Google’s Android operating system continues to grow, users and developers stand to lose in terms of app sales and security.

In State of Security in the App Economy, an app market research report that features data collected and interpreted by app research firm Arxan Technologies; numbers show that 56% of the top 100 applications for Apple’s iOS platform have  had their security compromised so that users could get them outside of Apple’s own iTunes App Store.  While that’s certainly high, what’s more astonishing is that 100% of the top Android applications have already been compromised, according to the report.

While it seems that this reality has managed to stay under the radar of users — after all Android’s free and open-source nature would, logically, allow what the report calls “hackers” to easily copy and repost applications — the numbers are decidedly bad news for users across the board.

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That’s because the places where user’s repost these “hacked” applications usually don’t offer much in the way of an certification process. This means that users who download hacked applications from sources other than Google Play or the iTunes App Store are statistically more likely to have their data exposed thanks to “hacked” applications that have been modified in some way. As the number of Android smartphones grow, so to do the number of users who override their Android device’s default settings to allow them to download apps outside of the Google Play Store.

Although privacy is a big concern, developers actually stand to lose even more as Android’s market share grows. Developers who create Android-specific applications stand a higher chance of having their app’s code and features stolen by other developers who then alter the app’s code in some way or outright duplicate it for their own app.

Numbers concerning hacked Android and iOS apps compiled by Arxan.

Numbers concerning hacked Android and iOS apps compiled by Arxan.

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Put simply, all of this app piracy could make developers think twice about investing in applications for Android, stunting the platforms growth. Arxan says that developers creating mobile applications should “prioritize protections for mobile apps that deal with transactions, payments, sensitive data or that have high value IP.” It’s also encouraging users to be more vigilant about the apps they download after jailbreaking their iPhones or after allowing their Android devices to download apps from places other than the Google Play Store.

As Android grows, the rate of users downloading and installing cracked applications will only grow. Android shipped as the operating system on only 74% of smartphones last year. This year that number has ballooned to around 84%, according to this report.

The report also attempts to highlight just how easy it is for users to get their hands on hacked and compromised applications. It actually used Google Search to compile its results. That represents a pretty low barrier-to-entry for everyday smartphone users.

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