10 ways to make Android faster, more productive, and more secure than the iPhone

Android's openness and large market share make it a target for attackers, but with a little tweaking, you can speed up, optimize, and secure the mobile OS

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8. Install antivirus software.
Why have you not done this already? Malware writers are flocking to Android. We're seeing much of what happened in the desktop world being repeated with smartphones. Android is more open, has a larger market share, and is a juicer target.

The iPhone is a closed ecosystem and may eventually, like the Mac, benefit from security through obscurity (though I doubt the iPhone will ever shrink to Mac-like numbers). For iPhone users, this is "good news, bad news" scenario. Yes, Apple does more to lock down apps and prevent third-party software from exploiting key system resources, but you are trusting one company for your security. If Apple screws up, all iPhone users are in trouble. Exhibit A: the Path privacy fiasco.

Android, on the other hand, may be less secure due to its openness, but it's welcoming to third-party security tools. There's no excuse not to have antivirus software on your smartphone. There are plenty of free options, such as Lookout, and with a simple download, you can significantly reduce your risks. Most of these antivirus apps also allow you to remotely lock and wipe your smartphone if it is lost or stolen, and some even allow you to set off an obnoxious alarm, which will either help you find the device if its tucked behind a couch cushion or convince a thief to toss it.

Of course, I'd like to see smartphone makers and the carriers bake antivirus into their various Android versions. It's a simple step that would benefit them -- carriers especially, by saving bandwidth, protecting against fraudulent charges, and so on. I would also like to see carriers adopt network-based mobile malware scanning, such as the solution from Kindsight Security Labs.

9. Stay away from app stores you do not know. Google has taken steps to tame the Wild West that was its Android Market, now called Google Play. For example, it now has the Bouncer function that scans the market for malware. The trouble is that Android users can download apps anywhere. Don't be lured into doing this. If you aren't using Google Play, make sure you are in an app store you know and trust, such as Amazon.com. Most Android devices come with the default setting that doesn't allow you to download apps from unknown sources. If you've fallen for social-engineering attacks in the past, it's best to leave that box checked.

When you download an app, try to get into the practice of checking permissions. If a game wants to send out SMS messages, for example, that should be a red flag.

10. Stay away from mobile payments. Mobile payments are starting to take off, especially in Europe and Asia, and users should be wary. The problem with mobile payments is that they are often simply added to your mobile phone bill, and if you find a suspicious charge, your liability will vary from carrier to carrier.

By contrast, if a hacker gets your credit card number and goes on a spending spree, under U.S. federal law, your maximum liability for credit card fraud is $50. In other words, credit card fraud is not your problem, it's the bank's. Until you have that level of protection for mobile payments, it's probably smarter and safer to stick with the credit card. (And note that debit cards necessarily don't offer this protection, even if they have a credit logo on them such as Visa or MasterCard.)

Based in Santa Monica, Calif., Jeff Vance is the founder of Sandstorm Media, a copywriting and content marketing firm. He regularly contributes stories about emerging technologies to this publication and many others. If you have ideas for future articles, contact him at jeff@sandstormmedia.net or http://twitter.com/JWVance.

Read more about anti-malware in Network World's Anti-malware section.

This story, "10 ways to make Android faster, more productive, and more secure than the iPhone" was originally published by Network World.

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