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What Are Complexities with Android Ecosystem?


Fragmentation in android

The fragmentation issues occur in the Android ecosystem because of its openness. It allows the device manufacturers to customize the code for their devices, which means that the same Android version is different for different devices. As a result, not only the consumers but also developers and security analysts face fragmentation issues.

When developers create code for a device, several types of issues arise which also impact the testing phase. The testing becomes expensive and time-consuming. The common issues for developers include differences in API levels, screen sizes, hardware configurations, peripheral availability, etc. For example, Samsung has over 15 different sizes of screens. 

In addition, other Android devices with Android TV, WearOS, and more need specialized UI design and code. Managing all these fragmentation issues is not a walk in the park for developers. 

On the security front, there are both pros and cons of fragmentation in the Android ecosystem. If hackers find vulnerabilities in an Android device, it doesn’t mean they can find the same vulnerabilities on devices built by other manufacturers. This minimizes the attack surface.

On the other hand, security analysts need to audit multiple devices instead of a single version of the OS on one device. This is a task that can’t be performed. In addition, some components like closed source software (specific for devices) can’t be audited.

Compatibility Issues

Google has set some compatibility guidelines for the device manufacturers to comply with if they wish to use Android for their devices. For example, if a company is making a mobile phone with a rear camera, then it needs to ensure that the resolution is at least 2 MP. 

To comply with the compatibility guidelines, the manufacturers need to make major modifications to the framework. The testing needs to be done differently for distinct devices. 

Update Issues

Management of app updates, including releasing the security fixes, is a major challenge in Android. It lacks backporting, and there are technical issues when deploying the OS updates to the app. 

The app developers need to follow different practices to handle the updates, because the procedure is distinct from OS updates. 

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Android’s Balance Between Openness and Security

Android is known for its openness, but this nature also increases security risks. If an ethical hacker or cybersecurity expert finds some flaws in an app, they need to think about whether to report the flaws to the vendor or disclose them publicly. Many security issues often remain unfixed and allow attackers to exploit them. 

When mobile device vendors make changes to Android for their devices, some bugs or flaws remain, which impact the overall security of the platform. Moreover, when the vendors stop supporting some of their devices, they stop releasing updates to them, which can leave users vulnerable.

Public Disclosure of Vulnerabilities

The aim of disclosing or announcing the vulnerabilities publicly is to tell the system admins to fix them, while making the users aware of updates. 

However, Android’s vulnerabilities are rarely disclosed. The only way for developers or users to see the security issues is by checking out the logs in AOSP. Such processes are not only time-consuming, but can also lead to other errors and are difficult to integrate into vulnerability assessment.

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