With iOS, passive “security” apps are worse than nothing

I am noticing a frightening trend. On iOS, there is a growing collection of “security” apps.

There is no such thing as a third-party security app on iOS (or on Windows Phone 7 for that matter). They don’t exist. There is no such thing.

On iOS, there is (thankfully) no framework for the background task approach that “classic” antivirus has used for the last 25 years. More importantly, due to a vetted application store, the need for such an approach is not present.

That isn’t to say that security vulnerabilities don’t exist in iOS, that they won’t continue to occur in iOS in the future, and that they cannot be exploited by those desiring to try and infect iOS devices – however, Apple does not (and Microsoft does not) believe that an active background process is the correct way to protect mobile devices from those kinds of attacks; which is wise, since it isn’t the correct way. Android is a separate matter, since the store is not vetted

That brings me back to my original point. Why are there a growing number of apps that claim they provide security protection on iOS? They can’t do that.

If your app has to be in the foreground to provide any protection, it’s not protecting my device or my data.

If it has to be running and in the foreground in order to help me understand the security context of my phone (whether my phone is up-to-date or connecting to insecure wireless networks), it’s worse than not protecting, it’s dangerous.

As a technical user, I understand that security apps on iOS cannot possibly provide comprehensive protection. Non-technical users who don’t understand the limitations of iOS with regard to background tasks, and that these apps cannot provide protection in real-time are being provided a disservice, and frankly, a dangerous illusion. They are told that these apps can provide protection – but telling me if my phone is insecure only if I opt into launching your app, or telling me that my phone is infected when I’ve really just connected it to a Windows machine or Mac and you’ve found that I might infect another Windows machine or Mac if I connect it (yet still requiring me to run the app to know this) is not helpful.

What service are you providing the consumer? It’s disingenuous at best to provide an app on iOS (or Windows Phone 7) that claims to provide standalone security, but frankly, it’s harmful. Most also don’t provide any actual protection beyond apps and infrastructure already available from Apple in their own apps (Find My iPhone and iCloud backup), let alone in Apple’s own enterprise management framework or through Exchange ActiveSync (both of which do not use apps to perform their work – they do so using security fundamentals built into the device itself).

Unless Apple elects to provide a background active scanning framework for anti-malware (PLEASE DON’T!), I believe they should not approve apps in the Utility category that claim to provide security protection to users when the app is only able to perform that obligation when it is active in the foreground.

Also, Apple, while I’m at it; what’s the deal with approving any app with “security” in the title, but it’s in the category of “Entertainment”? Effectively all of these are all cutesy junk like that frankly preys on non-technical users to pay for them, but do nothing. You shouldn’t ever approve that kind of app. There are also apps in the Utility or other categories doing this as well – but the ones in Entertainment are by far the worst offenders.

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