Are hardware makers doing enough to keep Android phones secure?

Google Home Unboxing and Setup process- GIZBOT

Google Home Unboxing and Setup process- GIZBOT

Android handset manufacturers may not be telling the whole truth about security updates, according to two well-known German researchers.

Security Research Labs stressed that exploiting Android handsets is still hard, but as hackers become incentivised to target smartphones, ensuring devices are kept current with patches is important. Unsurprisingly, Pixel phones are the best, accurately indicating that they're up to date with security fixes, and devices from Samsung and Sony aren't far behind, maybe only missing one fix out of a larger batch. Most other major Android phone makers fall somewhere in between. "The lesson is that if you go for a cheaper device, you end up in a less well maintained part to this ecosystem", said Nohl.

It can get worse that that, Nohl told Wired's Andy Greenberg. "Sometimes these guys just change the date without installing any patches". SRL checked out the firmware on 1,200 Android handsets and looked for every patch disseminated in 2017. SRL founder Karsten Nohl says that in some cases, a manufacturer might accidentally miss a security patch update, or even two.

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Nohl and Lell plan to present their findings at the Hack in the Box security conference in Amsterdam tomorrow, and post their full paper online after their presentation. Yes and no. While it's disgraceful for the companies to misrepresent a security patch level, SRL points out that often chip vendors are to blame: devices sold with MediaTek chips often lack many critical security patches because MediaTek fails to provide the necessary patches to device makers.

This OnePlus phone seems to be in decent, if outdated, security shape. Other handset makers have to examine each update and, if necessary, tailor them to fit each of their own devices.

What's The Story Of Android's Security Patches All About?

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In order to resolve this issue, Google could be separating Android framework patch level and vendor patch level.

Or so you'd think. The issue didn't extend to Google's devices, of course, so those with Pixel and Pixel XL, or Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL devices were safe, but the report claims that some OEMs, including Sony, Samsung, and Wiko had missed at least one security patch. It appears Motorola may not be living up to its promises.

LG, Motorola, Huawei, and HTC missed 3-4 patches, and Nokia, OnePlus, and Xiaomi skipped 1-3 patches on an average. One theory points to the chipsets these handsets are running, as there seems to be a correlation between particular SoCs and the availability of security updates: Snapdragon-based phones and those running Samsung's Exynos chips may only have one recent fix missing, while those built with MediaTek chips average almost ten.

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Bringing up the rear were ZTE and TCL, whose phones had an average of more than four missed Android security practices.

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