Some Android Smartphone Manufacturers Hiding Missed Security Updates

SnoopSnitch - Android Apps on Google Play

SnoopSnitch - Android Apps on Google Play

Android handset manufacturers may not be telling the whole truth about security updates, according to two well-known German researchers. After putting all the available vendors under grueling tests, the outcome blamed Chinese smartphone maker TCL and ZTE to majorly missing on security updates, with the top score of 4 patches.

Which smartphone maker skipped how many patches?

"We find that there's a gap between patching claims and the actual patches installed on a device".

The research laboratory laid their hands on phones which were claimed to have received the latest Android updates. The J5 did miss some security patches from 2017, but it didn't advertise that they were installed. Most other major Android phone makers fall somewhere in between.

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Xiaomi, Nokia, HTC, Motorola and LG all made the list, as well, while TCL and ZTE fared the worst in the study, with, on average, not having installed more than four of the patches they claimed to have installed on a given device. For some features, the app needs to be run on rooted Android phones, but the security patch analysis will work on all phones using a Qualcomm chipset.

The report on Wired points out that this "patch gap" is a serious problem where in some cases vendors indicated to users that the phone had all of Android's security patches, when it was missing more than a dozen in reality. The results are categorised as Patched, Patch missing, After claimed patch level, Test inconclusive. "Probably for marketing reasons, they just set the patch level to nearly an arbitrary date, whatever looks best", Nohl is quoted as saying. Presenting the results of SRLs finding at a security conference, researcher Karsten Nohl said, "We found several vendors that didn't install a single patch but changed the patch date forward by several months". The vendor has to primarily depend on the chipmaker to offer a security patch and not the OS.

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Nohl agrees that exploiting Android vulnerabilities remains hard due to these security layers and points out an easier and more common route to compromising Android devices is through the use of malicious apps - either inside Google Play or outside the store. That could be due to the fact that some cheaper phones using less expensive chips are more likely to miss updates. Despite Google's constant effort most of the vendors tend to skip on the occasional security patch for their devices and majority are specific to the mid-range devices.

Nohl and researcher Jakob Lell found that companies like Sony and Samsung missed a few patches on average, but HTC, Huawei, LG, and Motorola had between three and four skipped patches. Android has a lot of manufacturers, and hardly any OEM can keep up with Google's pace of releasing security patches.

"Built-in platform protections, such as application sandboxing, and security services, such as Google Play Protect, are just as important", he said.

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