Google’s Sundar Pichai: Android not designed to be safe, would target Android too if he were making malware



Responding to a question about malware on the Android platformFrAndroid reports that Google’s Android head Sundar Pichai gave a surprisingly frank answer to an audience at Mobile World Congress.

We cannot guarantee that Android is designed to be safe, the format was designed to give more freedom. When people talk about 90% of malware for Android, they must of course take into account the fact that it is the most popular operating system in the world. If I had a company dedicated to malware, I would also be addressing my attacks on Android.

While there is certainly truth in the idea of attackers targeting the operating system with the largest market share, iOS market share of 17.6 percent is not a small target, especially given all the evidence that iPhone users represent a wealthier target for criminal malware.

Update: Google provided a direct transcript in which Pinchai isn’t self critical.

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  1. Warren Siegel - 9 years ago

    Not only is Google the new Microsoft, but they’re using the same arguments.

  2. Tony C (@Muadibe10) - 9 years ago

    Straight from the horse’s mouth and right through the fandroids’ ears.

  3. scumbolt2014 - 9 years ago

    “We cannot guarantee that Android is designed to be safe” He omitted: stable, usable, original & good.

    • rzozaya1969 - 9 years ago

      Nothing is original, all OS are build on previous and others.. Android is very good in my opinion, as well as iOS…. iOS is safer, smoother and easier…..

    • rafalb177 - 9 years ago

      What I’ve heard so far about Android is: unstable, often unusable, not so original derivative of iOS and not so good. Truth hurts, Fandroids.

      • JLIT (@JLIT99) - 9 years ago

        Have you actually tried a decent specced Android phone yourself however? Ignorance speaks loudly.

      • rafalb177 - 9 years ago

        Decent specced Android phone? Are low specced Android phones not Android suddenly when you compare phones? But then again they are Android phones when you talk about market share. Make up your mind. How tech specs determine whether a phone is more secure, anyway? There’ll always be open backdoors, “windows” and keyholes and Android because of its open nature. Plus freedom to get unverified software, just because you can. So you can get yourself a nasty surprise, that has happened even in the Google App Store (whatever it’s called). Apps that stole credit card details easily made it there. You can keep defending, but I won’t buy your opinion anyway.

  4. likearabbit - 9 years ago

    “While there is certainly truth in the idea of attackers targeting the operating system with the largest market share, iOS market share of 17.6 percent is not a small target, especially given all the evidence that iPhone users represent a wealthier target for criminal malware.”

    Not to mention iOS’ dominance in large scale deployments. Enterprise is always a large target, even more so than the consumer market. I know this is a large reason why we chose to use iPhones / iPads and actively discourage BYOD Android devices in our 500~ person organization.

  5. standardpull - 9 years ago

    Android could be safe. It’s just that Google’s business practices with the platform and the Google Play store errors towards user freedom instead of user security. In my opinion, this is awesome for the hacker types like me, but risky for the casual user that installs the latest fad software without understanding the privacy and security risks of doing so.

    This user flexibility versus security balance is the single key differentiator between Android and iOS. The big question is how possible is it for Apple or Google to be more flexible AND more secure, and will users get frustrated or damaged by the platforms’ limitations?

    • Robert Nixon - 9 years ago

      What a colossally stupid comment from a guy responsible for a platform serving hundreds of millions of people. Basically, this is an admission that Google would rather give a tiny minority of power users more configuration options(i.e., “freedom”) than properly secure their platform.

      • Jo Jan - 9 years ago

        This is very much in line with Sundar Pichai’s inclinations, and what he had said in the past. He comes from the Chrome side of the business, and there have already been many signs that Google’s business model is much more in line with Chrome than with Android. In the past, Pichai has appeared to favor Chrome, and I am just wondering if this is Google telegraphing this message to all their OEM partners regarding their long term thinking about Chrome vs Android.

      • dwightk - 9 years ago

        It is especially odd considering they could probably offer a two-tier experience that let you choose between safety and freedom if they wanted, assuming, of course, they were able to make Android safe.

  6. James Katt - 9 years ago

    Ha ha ha. That is so funny. Android is the wild wild west – without a sheriff to control the outlaws.

  7. Adrian Petrescu - 9 years ago

    “While there is certainly truth in the idea of attackers targeting the operating system with the largest market share, iOS market share of 17.6 percent is not a small target, especially given all the evidence that iPhone users represent a wealthier target for criminal malware.”

    … and, consequently, they’re in the middle of dealing with a major, major security disaster at the moment? What exactly was this comparison supposed to suggest, anyway?

    • Tim Neuman - 9 years ago

      If you’re referring to the recent SSL bug, Apple very quickly updated iOS to fix the problem. Android has holes and security issues that have never been resolved. Apple acts quickly to fix problems as soon as they are aware of them.

    • liquidwolverine1 - 9 years ago

      Also, the majority of iPhone users are on the same operating system and are all capable of downloading and installing the security update. Fragmented devices will not allow this to be fixed.

      • Important thing is, no one has found that bug. Its been identified by apple and fixed by them. Also Apple does give fix for ios 6.1 too

  8. ashtraywasp - 9 years ago

    “While there is certainly truth in the idea of attackers targeting the operating system with the largest market share, iOS market share of 17.6 percent is not a small target”.

    Regarding that 17.6% iOS market share figure: that percentage was based solely on shipping numbers by the IDC. It’s always very important to remember that shipments do NOT equal sales. And that 17.6% number floating around is purely shipments.

    A few examples:

    At the time of the Surface release, Microsoft initially shipped something crazily optimistic like 5-10 million Surfaces, but it got panned and sold less than 1 million during its first 3 months of release.

    Microsoft also recently bragged about “shipping” 3.9 million Xbox Ones this holiday season in response to the PS4 selling 4.2 million (and was sold out everywhere), then it leaked that they had actually only sold 3 million. Effectively there were almost a million Xboxes left on the shelf at Xmas, with no-one buying them. But that didn’t stop the numbers reported shipped being 3.9 million, just that the number sold was a million less.

    The same thing happened with Windows 8. OEMs went into overdrive with the belief that Windows 8 was going to be the second coming they’d all been waiting for. Windows PC shipments that period were in the bajillions, sales barely existent.

    I just want to put that out there.

    So often there are these reports from different sources: half of them saying iOS-Android is around ~40-45% each, and then the shipping data reports come out and everyone loses their mind thinking Android has a massive lead. Those shipping numbers for Android represent nothing more than the total number of devices manufactured by all of the Android OEMs around the world. Most of them don’t sell very well, that’s a simple truth; but it doesn’t stop them thinking their phone is going to be a hit and shipping huge quantities, whereas no-one would argue that if Apple ships tens of millions of iPhones they’re ever gonna have a problem selling them.

    Always remember that, because it gets confusing otherwise. :-)

    • Ben Lovejoy - 9 years ago

      And even with shipping numbers, the estimates vary quite substantially. There is, though, no doubt that Android has the larger market share, and that should surprise no-one: there’s a shedload of very low-end Android handsets out there around the world.

      • ashtraywasp - 9 years ago

        Yeah, varying shipping numbers don’t make it easier do they. I agree too that Android will surely have the larger base worldwide, but I think that it will be much much closer than a 78-18 split. I imagine a massive number of the 226 million Android devices shipped in Q4 didn’t sell, whereas it’s probably likely that out of Apple’s 51 million shipped they sold pretty much every one available.

        Obviously I’m just a dude on the internet guessing, but it’s probably more like 40-55, or 45-50 in Android’s favour overall. Although sometimes the Western sales over here in Europe (I’m a Brit too) and the US seem to be about equal or actually in iPhones’ favour, China does seem to love it some Android.

  9. sardonick - 9 years ago

    Most popular OS in the world. I’m glad I’m in the minority of people who don’t like the most popular things then. (although I’m secretly pining over the s5)

    • rzozaya1969 - 9 years ago

      I’m not sure that Android is more popular than iOS… it’s just that you can get a Android phone for a low contract with no cost or almost no cost has sold way more Android than iPhones. All iPhones have been high end when they were new, and sold at a price point reflecting that.

      • sardonick - 9 years ago

        They weren’t talking about Android “phones” though. They said (claimed) it’s the most popular operating system. That’s not device specific. Either way, I’m sure all sides can spin their own stats, I just use what works for me.

  10. herb02135go - 9 years ago

    If Apple was not in denial it would say the same thing. BTW, has everyone updated their ios for the most recent security breach?

    • David Weintraub - 9 years ago

      The fact is that Apple COULD fix that security breach (and several others) and quickly get it to all of its users. Almost all of iOS users on 7.x and 6.x will have that security breech fixed.

      Operating systems are very complex, and security issues happen all of the time. There are dozens of security breaches found in Android. Most of them have been “fixed” by Google, but many users will never get them since they depend upon the handset manufacturers and the service providers to author the fix for a particular handset.

      One of the biggest issues with Windows security happened when Microsoft actually fixed a security issue, and then announced the update. That’s when malware authors got busy because back in the WinXP days, they knew that very few users would install those updates.

      And, that’s why Android has so many more security issues than iOS. Google announces a fix for a particular security problem, but even if the user wants the fix, they cannot get it.

    • Tim Neuman - 9 years ago

      Not a “security breach”. They had a bug in the iOS that could result in someone intercepting supposedly secure information when a user is on an unsecured WiFi connection. Big difference.

  11. PMZanetti - 9 years ago

    Most popular OS in the world? Hmm. Guess that guy ignores actual usage data…which shows that (especially relevant in this context) iOS is by far the most popular actively used mobile OS in the world.

    I say especially relevant because the devices actually being used are the ones most vulnerable to attacks.

    Hackers attack Android because they can. They typically don’t attack iOS, because it is much, much harder. AKA…secure.

  12. You guys don’t even sip the sauce, you swallow it whole and ask for more. You take irresponsible journalism and run with it.

    • Jared Castello - 9 years ago

      Yeah not even a retraction. Just a tiny update link at the end. They don’t want to kill the link baiting traffic.

      • liquidwolverine1 - 9 years ago

        Yeah, that article didn’t do much better. He did say it was “very secure”….even though Android has fragmentation issues, is open and vulnerable and accounts for over 90%…(99.8% to be exact) of malware on mobile devices. He still tried to make an excuse that hackers will attack the most popular OS, even though it is proven that iOS users spend more money, and lead in the corporate world.


Avatar for Ben Lovejoy Ben Lovejoy

Ben Lovejoy is a British technology writer and EU Editor for 9to5Mac. He’s known for his op-eds and diary pieces, exploring his experience of Apple products over time, for a more rounded review. He also writes fiction, with two technothriller novels, a couple of SF shorts and a rom-com!

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