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Are iPhones more secure than Android devices?

Apple has built a reputation for strong device security, but reputation alone can't protect corporate data. While iOS and Android differ, mobile security comes down to management.

Android and iOS devices differ in a few ways, and security is one area where these differences affect organizations most.

The choice between iPhones and Android devices has long been an issue of debate among IT departments looking to ensure data security. To find the right security approach, IT should understand the unique advantages and drawbacks of each platform.

Apple has a reputation as the most secure option due to its focus on privacy, security and end-user experience. Although Google hasn't always had the same reputation, the company has also implemented some strong security measures for Android. All modern Android and iOS devices support data encryption, as well as mobile device management (MDM) commands for enforcing passcodes and secure authentication.

Beyond each OS' security features and reputation, how software such as MDM manages devices is vital to ensuring cybersecurity. MDM tools enable organizations to secure their mobile devices and data via policy implementation. Organizations can then control user access to corporate applications, enforce strong password requirements, enable device encryption and more. It's not just a question of which platform is more secure; it's a question of how each platform works with MDM tools to protect corporate data.

The growth of iPhone and Android in the enterprise

Apple builds iPhones from the ground up with privacy and security in mind. It has a built-in encryption system through Secure Enclave. This hardware-based security chip protects sensitive user data, even if the device's main processor is compromised. Apple also tightly controls its App Store, limiting the availability of malicious apps that could compromise user data. Additionally, automated enrollment is available when organizations use MDM and Apple Business Manager. With this zero-touch enrollment approach, IT teams can easily send devices to end users, as they automatically provision into management and lock themselves into that status, even after a device reset.

Apple also tightly controls its App Store, limiting the availability of malicious apps that could compromise user data.

The Android OS, on the other hand, is available on a wide range of devices, and Google has a lower level of control over security updates and patches within its open source ecosystem. This has raised concerns among IT administrators, especially when managing centrally with MDM, which often requires additional licensing or third-party tools.

Still, Android devices have made strides when it comes to security. Google has implemented several measures that make it more difficult for hackers to break into an Android smartphone. Improvements include more extensive encryption standards and the ability to perform remote wipes. Features such as work profiles and fully managed mode in Android Enterprise also offer users and organizations greater separation and protection of work and personal data. Additionally, Google Play Protect helps keep malicious software off users' devices by continuously scanning apps for malware. Google has also implemented its own zero-touch programs, including Android zero-touch enrollment and a partner program with Samsung Knox Mobile Enrollment.

Both iPhones and Android phones have their strengths and weaknesses regarding security and UX workflows. As a result, it's essential to put comprehensive security policies in place, regardless of the platform. An organization's device management and initiatives, such as zero-touch enrollment, are crucial in determining the device's overall security and adoption within the organization.

3 factors that can shape a mobile security policy

IT professionals should consider device security for both Android and iOS devices when assessing the potential risk of data theft or leakage. Factors to keep in mind include device management, OS updates and malware.

1. Device management

With Apple Business Manager, IT administrators can enforce supervision specifically on corporate-only devices. This grants them higher-level management privileges, enabling more effective device control. Additionally, features such as User Enrollment and Managed Apple IDs offer enhanced separation between corporate and personal data on a device.

Android provides strong management functionality and offers more hardware options. This gives admins flexibility in selecting devices that suit their specific needs. Work profiles and fully managed mode for corporate-owned and BYOD use cases enable IT to separate work and personal data. The Android Enterprise Recommended program also gives IT a list of devices that Google has certified as meeting security, performance and manageability requirements for enterprise use.

2. OS updates

Apple typically rolls out iOS updates to all supported devices at the same time, ensuring that the latest security patches, bug fixes and new features are available to users. There are many MDM tools that provide access to OS updates within the management platform, enabling IT to push updates to devices centrally. This centralized approach simplifies the update process and helps maintain a consistent experience across iPhones in an organization.

With the introduction of Project Mainline in Android 10, the process of updating essential Android system components has become more streamlined and consistent. However, Android updates still pose challenges for admins. While the Android Enterprise Recommended list makes it easier to find devices with OS update commitments, there are instances where certain vendors might require additional maintenance packages or third-party tools to access upgrades over extended lifecycles.

3. Malware

When assessing mobile malware risk, it's worth noting that Apple's closed ecosystem can contribute to a more secure environment. Apple has strict control over app distribution, and hardware limitations can significantly reduce the risk of malware infection on iPhones.

Due to its open nature and broader range of devices, Android can be more susceptible to malware attacks. However, being open source makes it easier for security researchers to report issues to help patch vulnerabilities, and tools such as Google Play Protect offer additional protection against potentially harmful applications. Still, if IT teams don't manage devices appropriately and allow installations from third-party app stores or unknown sources, higher security risks might be present on the Android platform.

A diagram showing the top mobile security threats
IT teams and end users should protect against threats such as malware and unpatched OSes to ensure mobile security.

While the prevailing perception that the iPhone offers superior security holds some significance, it's crucial to strike a balance with effective device management. The iPhone offers numerous benefits for IT, such as streamlined provisioning and enhanced UX. At the same time, Android provides IT with strong management and security controls, along with a wide range of hardware options. With proper management and the right MDM policies in place, both iPhone and Android can be highly secure.

Most modern devices can provide organizations with the necessary tools and features to ensure mobile security. When deciding what device is best for an organization and its end users, IT should consider what device features and capabilities are essential, as well as what the end-user experience should look like on a day-to-day basis. Then, IT should manage them centrally with MDM.

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