Android phone makers skip Google security updates without telling users

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Smartphone manufacturers caught lying to consumers about having the latest Android Security patches

An undisclosed list of Android phone makers have been actively deceiving customers about their devices' security against malware and hacking vulnerabilities, according to Wired, which spoke with researchers at the Security Research Lab (SRL) based in Germany.

With Android P, "all traffic should be encrypted, regardless of content, as any unencrypted connections can be used to inject content, increase attack surface for potentially vulnerable client code, or track the user", Android security engineer Chad Brubaker wrote.

It found that in some cases, Android smartphone makers allegedly told users that smartphone's software has been updated with monthly patches when it hasn't. An app called SnoopSnitch enables users to check if smartphone is running the security patches which it claims. It was discovered that the smartphones tested have missed or lacked the security patch which the company claims that they have rolled out.

As per Nohl and Lell most of the companies are either not rolling out the updates on time, or are simply lying regarding the fact that a latest security update has been installed.

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The research firm tested about 1200 smartphones from makers like Google, Samsung, HTC, TCL and tested their flagship devices.

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.

Missing an update or two may not end up in a device hack, but with a series of patches missing can cause some serious problems with the security of the device.

While many of these missed security patches may not be inherently risky in isolation, hackers typically chain together multiple security holes to reach their goal, taking over devices and stealing data.

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"We find that there's a gap between patching claims and the actual patches installed on a device", said Nohl, founder of SRL, speaking to Wired. SRL says that it had tested the firmware on around 1,200 Android phones, looking for whether or not patches had been applied, which led to it finding devices that had changed the dates forward without actually adding the patches in. The vendor has to primarily depend on the chipmaker to offer a security patch and not the OS.

One of the interesting revelations from the research is that even major vendors such as Xiaomi and Nokia (which promise swifter updates) had on an average between one and three missing patches, whereas HTC, Motorola, and LG had missed between three and four patches.

In a statement given to The Verge, Google thanked Karsten Nohl and Jakob Kell "for their continued efforts to reinforce the security of the Android ecosystem". Other protections include app sandboxing, Google Play Protect, and the Android ecosystem's diversity. Google says that some of the devices in the study may not have been Android certified devices, which means that Google's standards of security would not apply to them.

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