When it comes to breaking into a phone, the police and the vast majority of security researchers agree that Android phones are increasingly becoming more secure and difficult to hack into compared to an iPhone.
According to multiple police warrants and security sources, Android phones are starting to level to the security level of Apple’s phones and breaking in Google’s OS phone becomes increasingly trickier than it used to be.
In one warrant, cops seized an LG Android phone after swooping on a suspected drug dealer, Angel Angul, who was allegedly selling methamphetamine to an undercover police officer. The phone was found in the suspect Ford Mustang, but no other details were given concerning the exact model of the evidence phone. Back in January, when the investigation on Angulo started, the police obtained permission to bypass the security features in the phone by holding it up against the suspect’s face or by depressing his fingerprint to unlock the phone using facial and fingerprint recognition technology.
However, all these efforts did not come into a favorable outcome.
According to the investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), they were not able to crack the phone’s security mechanisms, even at the screen lock level, using the sophisticated forensic hacking tools that they currently have. As a consequence of their inability to bypass the phone’s security system, they have asked the Justice Department for an extension of until 120 days to give them more time to open the device.
Indeed, the security mechanisms in an Android phone has become too strong that in some cases, even the police could not crack the code, and the forensic community agrees.
“Some would say iPhones are less secure,” said one source from a large forensics provider.
Vladimir Katalov, CEO of Russian forensics provider Elcomsoft, told Forbes that there is evidence that Google, just like Apple, has been adding security features in Android phones continually making it very secure to prevent unauthorized access to the said phones.
Secure Startup, Android security feature that encrypts the contents of the phone and only allows people with the passcode or some other types of authorization like a fingerprint or facial recognition to access the internal storage of the device is one of the most successful security updates that Google implemented in their Android OS-run phones.
The fact that Android license multiple brands to use the OS in different ways add up the mystery for law enforcement, or even hackers, to penetrate a phone without the owner’s authorization. Unlike iOS that is exclusively used by Apple products like iPhones and iPads and can be hacked with a unified method (even if hacking it takes so much research, skills, and resources as Apple updates the OS regularly), Android’s security system process varies from one manufacturer to another. Bypassing LG’s lock screen could need different techniques used in avoiding Samsung’s lock screen mechanism.
“While some Android phones can be accessed using generic methods, each new model may contain unique features which require a more customized approach,” said Peter Sommer, professor of digital forensics at Birmingham City University in the U.K. “In addition there are instances of standard Android phones being heavily modified to have secure features.”
While the government has considerably spent a hefty amount of money in trying to hack iPhones, they seem to have forgotten that Android phones also become more and more secure. A recent $1.2 million purchase was made by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) for a technology that would essentially hack into a locked iPhone, but evidence shows that there is no improvement on the technological infrastructure that the police use to forensically get into an Android device.
Nonetheless, iPhones still overpowers Android security in some cases, though. Security researchers have agreed that there is a considerable disparity in Android’s facial recognition systems across different devices. News broke out that some Android phones can be unlocked by only using the owner’s photo in another device. When Forbes tested some Android devices’ facial recognition, a 3D printed head was able to open all the tested units without any problems.
In the end, amidst claims of iPhone’s impenetrability and Android’s disparities in terms of its facial recognition system, Google continues to work to improve their devices’ security and they might come a little bit over-secured in the future that sweeping through a suspect phone will no longer be an option for law enforcement to find evidence from.