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Google has an opportunity to get serious about security with Android 5.0

Chris Nerney | April 24, 2013
Key Lime Pie offers an opportunity for Google to fix one of the biggest holes in the open-source OS - security features baked into the Android kernel.

Google's annual I/O developers' conference begins in three weeks, and the general expectation in the tech world is that the search giant will unveil the latest update to its wildly successful mobile operating system, Android 5.0, or Key Lime Pie.

Key Lime Pie offers an opportunity for Google to fix one of the biggest holes in the open-source OS - security features baked into the Android kernel. But at least one analyst doesn't think it's going to happen.

"I think they will include whatever features will work for both consumer and enterprise," Ben Bajarin, an analyst with Creative Strategies, tells CITEworld. "But I don't foresee them doing anything particularly exclusive for enterprise-class workers."

As any number of studies have shown - and here's merely the latest - Android is a huge target for malware, mostly through the Google Play apps store. Malware-ridden apps often have been found on Google Play (previously Android Market) well after millions of people may have downloaded them.

Google has stepped up efforts to prevent malicious software from Google Play, but malware still finds a home in the online store. Just last Friday mobile security vendorLookout reported finding a new malware family, BadNews, in 32 applications across four developer accounts. The apps were downloaded between 2 million and 9 million times. (Interestingly, the people behind BadNews created a fake advertising network as a cover for the malware distribution network, according to Lookout.)

Beyond the Android malware issue, Google has telegraphed its indifference to mobile security in other ways. After purchasing Motorola Mobility (MM) in 2011, the search giant disbanded 3LM, a company acquired by MM that, as InfoWorld's Galen Gruman wrotelast November, "had a mobile management API and platform for Android that provided similar functionality to the mobile management APIs that Apple introduced in iOS 4 in summer 2010 -- the APIs that transformed the iPhone from a consumer-only device into what is now the most-purchased business smartphone."

So security is the main reason why Android trails Apple's iOS in the enterprise mobile market, even as it dominates in the consumer space, and clearly Google bears the greatest responsibility for Android's vulnerabilities.

Samsung has aggressively moved to fill this void, selling its own version of Android with enterprise-level security features baked in. Samsung Safe for Enterprise (SAFE), released last year, provides a security and management layer for Samsung devices running on the South Korean company's flavor of Android. And KNOX, unveiled less than two months ago, allows IT to keep enterprise users' personal and work data separate.

The focus on Android security has paid off for Samsung, which remains the only Android device manufacturer with a measurable presence in the enterprise. Mobile device management (MDM) vendor Good Technology reported that in Q4, Samsung's Galaxy SIII smartphone accounted for 6% of its customers' mobile device activations. No other Android manufacturer was close.


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