Researchers say some Android phone makers hide missed updates

Google might split Android security patches to deliver fast updates

These smartphone makers have created a false sense of security among their users.

In a recent report by a German security firm, it was found that several Android phones missed multiple security patches leaving these devices vulnerable to a broad collection of known hacking techniques. The J5 did miss some security patches from 2017, but it didn't advertise that they were installed. 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.

As I mentioned in the first step, the SnoopSnitch app isn't fully working on devices running Android 8.1 like the Pixel 2. The companies like Google, Samsung, and Sony got a very good record of installing the patches but the companies like Lenovo's Motorola, TCL and ZTE have got the problem to roll out the updates.

Device fragmentation has always been a challenge for Google when releasing updates for its Android platform, which is by far and away the most popular mobile software on the planet. "Owing to this complexity, a few missing patches are usually not enough for a hacker to remotely compromise an Android device", the researchers wrote. The Berlin-based team found that many Android phone manufacturers were far behind on updates, or even lying about the last security update applied to the phone. Compared to flagships, cheaper phones are found to be skipping more patches, which also tend to use cheaper chips.

Failing to update their smartphones with the latest security updates is one thing, but SRL found that some simply lie about installing any patches at all. Sony and Samsung were both flagged as having missed some security patches - in some cases in spite of reporting that they were up to date.

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HTC, Huawei, LG and Motorola all had between three and four skipped patches while Xiaomi, OnePlus and Nokia skipped, on average, between one and three security updates.

Google's Android product security lead, Scott Roberts, said: "We're working with [SRL] to improve their detection mechanisms to account for situations where a device uses an alternate security update instead of the Google-suggested security update". This can be seen in the image of the table below which lists off what OEMs were missing patches and how many of them were missed.

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

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.

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