Mind the Gap – Mind your Android

Android holds approximately 80% of the global mobile market today. Due to the popularity of the Android operating system for mobile phones, it serves as a more attractive target for hackers and cyber criminals than iOS mobile phones.

Security researchers have discovered ways to take control over roughly 70% of Android devices via a Web page or apps – mostly devices that have outdated versions. Although Google releases patches approximately every four months, most of the devices will likely remain vulnerable to attack because they will not be updated.

Security consultant Graham Cluley accentuated this point when he said, “The fundamental problem is that they [Google] don’t control the hardware and software. Even though all these devices are Android-operated, they run different tweaked versions with different UIs and add-ons.

While the iOS operating system is only installed on Apple devices and it is relatively easy to obtain updates, security updates for Android OS devices are forced to pass through the mobile network operators and carriers – a hindrance that often takes a great deal of time.

The following chart describes the patching process for an Android device, from the first discovery of a vulnerability through to the repair that ultimately reaches the end-user device. The repair process at point C is typical for every software product. The repair software represented by point C is usually the end vulnerability window shown at point A.

Points D – G represent the repair process specific to Google; whenever a patch to Android becomes necessary, Google provides an update via its open source forum. The manufacturers produce the update, vendors release it and then the user installs the updated customized version of his operating system.

Chart showing the creating of a patch for an Android device
Chart showing the creating of a patch for an Android device

It should be noted that the patch release date is not the date when these updates are actually available to users. Once Google releases an update, the manufacturer must update it to suit his material. There is a possibility that the updates may never actually become available to the user, for example, if the vendor decides that distributing the update is too expensive for him.

As a result of the window of vulnerability and the different Google and the manufacturer release dates, hackers can use reverse engineering techniques to identify and exploit the vulnerability of a device by using the information found in the original published patch, or that of any other manufacturer who may have issued the patch at an earlier date.

Clearly, the fact that Google provides a secure platform for Android is insufficient – it is also important to ensure that their patches reach their targets, Android users, within the shortest possible time, to minimize the attack window.


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