Monday, 19 November, 2018

Some Android OEMs lied about applying security updates

Some Android OEMs lied about applying security updates Some Android OEMs lied about applying security updates
Emmett Howard | 13 April, 2018, 02:08

Google stepped up its scrutiny of device security several years ago in the wake of the massive Stagefright vulnerability.

"Sometimes these guys just change the date without installing any patches".

Each month, Google puts out a new list of Android patches, some of which are minor and others may be critical vulnerabilities. SRL Labs is going to release an update to its Android app SnoopSnitch that will let users check their phone's code for the actual state of its security updates, but it is unlikely that users will manually check for patches. When the update does arrive on a phone, the settings reports the patch level as a month and year.

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The takeaway here is that even though a new phone might not have every single patch, the Android OS is still tough to hack. Other handset makers have to examine each update and, if necessary, tailor them to fit each of their own devices. There's no word yet on how exactly Google plans to prevent this situation in the future as there aren't any mandated checks in place from Google to ensure that devices are running the security patch level they claim they are running. They found what they call a "patch gap": In many cases, certain vendors' phones would tell users that they had all of Android's security patches up to a certain date, while in reality missing as many as a dozen patches from that period - leaving phones vulnerable to a broad collection of known hacking techniques. Google's phones seem to be safe, however, as the Pixel and Pixel 2 series did not misrepresent what security patches they had. It also highlighted Android's core security features, which have made hacking even unpatched phones more hard, and counters that some of the missing patches may have been down to companies leaving out the features they relate to. In a somewhat better grouping, each Xiaomi, OnePlus and Nokia phone tested had between one and three missed patches. While Nohl and Lell found, on average, between zero to one missed patches since October 2017 on each Samsung, Google and Sony phone they tested, they found between three and four missed patches on the Motorola phones. Huawei, HTC, Motorola, and LG were found to be lacking as many as four, and ZTE and TCL were missing more than four updates in many cases.

You could reasonably believe most of this is just an accident and not a result of incompetence or malicious behavior. MediaTek chips are often found in lower cost devices, so they don't get updated as often. For example, the Samsung Galaxy J3 missed 12 patches in 2017 that it claimed to have. SRL notes that the chips the phones used could be part of the problem.

Does this mean your phone is dangerously insecure? Device makers rely on chip vendors to release patches for their designs, and MediaTek is notoriously slow to comply with open source requirements. Most devices still have nearly all the patches you'd expect, and the Android platform has protections like address space layout randomization and process sandboxing to foil attacks.

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