News

4/12/2018
07:15 PM
50%
50%

Android Patches Can Skip a Beat

Researchers have found that some Android devices are skipping patches and lying about it.

When a device isn't patched to the most current OS level, it tends to be bad from a security viewpoint. When the device lies to you about it, claiming up-to-date software while remaining unpatched, it's much, much worse. "Much worse" is the state many Android owners find themselves in, according to two years of research by Karsten Nohl and Jakob Lell of Security Research Labs (SRL).

Nohl and Lell found that Android patching practices are a crazy quilt of practices ranging from fully up to date to woefully behind patch versions to, in the worst cases, woefully behind while telling the users that they are up to date. The problem for users is that there's no one good way to tell the camp in which a device resides.

According to an article in Wired, SRL tested the firmware of 1,200 phones, from more than a dozen phone manufacturers, for every Android patch released in 2017. They found that a single vendor — Google — provided every patch for every device. All the other vendors, from a list that ranged from Samsung and Motorola to ZTE and TCL, missed at least some of the available patches. Worse, a smattering of devices from each of these vendors failed to install patches even though they told the user that software had been updated.

Now, there can be legitimate reasons for a user, whether individual or company, to skip a patch or delay its rollout. Patches may break individual corporate apps, change device or app behavior, or cause massive device slowdowns. The point is that the choice of whether to install a given patch or update rightly rests with the user, not the vendor.

There can also be legitimate reasons for a vendor to skip a patch or update. Android exists as an ecosystem existing on a staggering number of different hardware platforms, each of which must reach its own separate accord with changes to the operating system. If a vendor finds that a particular patch is incompatible with its hardware, then it can sit out a round and make up any security issues in later versions.

When a vendor chooses not to provide an update but revises the software date to make it appear that a patch has happened, it becomes much harder to justify the vendor's behavior. The false sense of security the revised OS date provides is especially pernicious at a time of malware that can literally destroy a device.

There are techniques by which a user can manually check for applied updates, but such techniques require methods that many users will not be comfortable using and most enterprise IT shops will find onerous. And there's no great way to know whether a particular device will be affected by any given patch that might be missed.

In the Wired article, Nohl touts defense in depth as the only realistic protection against the sort of vulnerabilities that may be created by a spoofed update. Defense in depth is a presumption for most corporate IT security schemes. It may well be that paranoia should be added to the toolbox if Android devices are in the pockets of corporate employees.

Related Content:

Interop ITX 2018

Join Dark Reading LIVE for a two-day Cybersecurity Crash Course at Interop ITX. Learn from the industry’s most knowledgeable IT security experts. Check out the agenda here. Register with Promo Code DR200 and save $200.

Curtis Franklin Jr. is Senior Editor at Dark Reading. In this role he focuses on product and technology coverage for the publication. In addition he works on audio and video programming for Dark Reading and contributes to activities at Interop ITX, Black Hat, INsecurity, and ... View Full Bio

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
White House Cybersecurity Strategy at a Crossroads
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  7/17/2018
Mueller Probe Yields Hacking Indictments for 12 Russian Military Officers
Kelly Jackson Higgins, Executive Editor at Dark Reading,  7/13/2018
10 Ways to Protect Protocols That Aren't DNS
Curtis Franklin Jr., Senior Editor at Dark Reading,  7/16/2018
Register for Dark Reading Newsletters
White Papers
Video
Cartoon Contest
Write a Caption, Win a Starbucks Card! Click Here
Latest Comment: This comment is waiting for review by our moderators.
Current Issue
Flash Poll
Twitter Feed
Dark Reading - Bug Report
Bug Report
Enterprise Vulnerabilities
From DHS/US-CERT's National Vulnerability Database
CVE-2018-12959
PUBLISHED: 2018-07-19
The approveAndCall function of a smart contract implementation for Aditus (ADI), an Ethereum ERC20 token, allows attackers to steal assets (e.g., transfer all contract balances into their account).
CVE-2018-14336
PUBLISHED: 2018-07-19
TP-Link WR840N devices allow remote attackers to cause a denial of service (connectivity loss) via a series of packets with random MAC addresses.
CVE-2018-10620
PUBLISHED: 2018-07-19
AVEVA InduSoft Web Studio v8.1 and v8.1SP1, and InTouch Machine Edition v2017 8.1 and v2017 8.1 SP1 a remote user could send a carefully crafted packet to exploit a stack-based buffer overflow vulnerability during tag, alarm, or event related actions such as read and write, with potential for code t...
CVE-2018-14423
PUBLISHED: 2018-07-19
Division-by-zero vulnerabilities in the functions pi_next_pcrl, pi_next_cprl, and pi_next_rpcl in lib/openjp3d/pi.c in OpenJPEG through 2.3.0 allow remote attackers to cause a denial of service (application crash).
CVE-2018-3857
PUBLISHED: 2018-07-19
An exploitable heap overflow exists in the TIFF parsing functionality of Canvas Draw version 4.0.0. A specially crafted TIFF image processed via the application can lead to an out-of-bounds write, overwriting arbitrary data. An attacker can deliver a TIFF image to trigger this vulnerability and gain...