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Shock and Awe: OEMs Cause Android Security Issues

Shock and Awe: OEMs Cause Android Security Issues

It should come as no surprise that here at XDA, we are always calling on the OEMs to do a better job of removing the bloat of their custom UIs (Samsung – we’re looking at you and your now insane TouchWiz size) and improving the overall user experience. What may come as a shock to some, though, is that a recent study by researchers at North Carolina State University says that those same OEMs, and their incessant need to have a custom UI as some sort of “branding,” are directly responsible for most of the security issues found with Android. Cue Home Alone face.

In all honesty, we really shouldn’t be all that surprised. XDA Elite Recognized Developer jcase gave a great talk at XDA:DevCon13 where he discussed “Android Security Vulnerabilites and Exploits.” There, he identified how OEMs (LG was his main example) are directly responsible for many of the vulnerabilities and exploits he finds.

The researchers at NC State found that 60% of the security issues were directly tied to changes OEMs had made to stock Android, specifically related to apps requesting more permissions than were necessary. They looked at 2 devices from each 4 different OEMs (Sony, Samsung, LG and HTC), with one running a version of Android 2.x and another running 4.x from each OEM, along with the Nexus S and Nexus 4 from Google.

Here are a few of the findings:

  • 86% of preloaded apps asked for more permissions than were necessary, with most coming from OEMs.
  • 65-85% of the security issues on Samsung, HTC, and LG devices come from their customizations, while only 38% of the issues found on Sony devices came from them.

For the user, this should be a warning to pay attention to the permissions used when you install an app and take steps to protect yourself, like with the Xposed module XPrivacy. For OEMs, shame on you. Consumers place trust, no matter how unfounded and risky that is, on you. For you to be breaking that trust by not being responsible and open in your dealings and development is just plain careless.

The full study, presented yesterday at the ACM Conference on Computer and Communications Security in Berlin, is definitely a good read, with specific case studies done on the Samsung Galaxy S3 and LG Optimus P880.

Source: MIT Technology Review

[Thanks to XDA Elite Recognized Developer toastcfh for the tip.]

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