Top Android Security Issues, Limitations, Vulnerabilities, and Enforcement
The number of Android-based smartphones is overgrowing. It is the most widely used mobile operating system globally, with over 2 billion active users. However, everything comes with a cost, just like how our bodies can be susceptible to illness, technology can also be vulnerable to different types of cyber threats.
In this write-up (part of a complete Android Penetration Testing Tutorial), we will discuss some of the most prevalent Android security issues, the limitations of the platform and the enforcement measures Google has taken to help protect users.
Before looking at the security issues, let’s understand the need for Android security.
Importance of Android Security Model and Its Levels
Smartphones have become an integral part of people’s daily lives providing a means to access and manage sensitive information, such as financial data, personal documents, videos, photos, contacts, and login credentials.
In order to safeguard users and their data, Google needs to have some model that can fight against these issues. That’s when the search engine giant came up with the Android security model.
It combines various Android security features and mechanisms built into the OS to protect user data and resources. Each layer provides a different level of protection for the user’s data.
Components of Android Security Model
The main components of the Android Security Model are listed below:
1. Application Sandboxing
Sandboxing isolates apps from each other, so an app cannot access data and resources from another app without permission. This feature helps to prevent unauthorized access and data leakage.
2. User Permissions
Android apps must request permission from the user to access specific resources on devices such as cameras or contact. This will prevent apps from accessing sensitive data without the user’s consent or knowledge.
Android supports various kinds of encryption to protect the data stored on the device. Some of them are full-disk encryption, storage encryption, and file-based encryption.
4. Secure Boot
Secure boot verifies the integrity of the device’s operating system during the Android boot process, to ensure that the device has not been tampered with.
5. Google Play Protect
This security feature called Google Play Protect scans the applications for malware and other security attacks before they are downloaded. It also examines installed applications to look for any malicious apps.
6. Android Device Manager
This feature is used by users to remotely locate, or lock their device when their device gets stolen or lost.
7. Network Security
Android has built-in support for secure networking protocols, such as VPN and HTTPS, to help protect the data. Check the linked write-up to know in detail about what is networking and the different types of networks.
8. Biometric Authentication
Android has built biometric authentication methods like Fingerpaint, Face ID, or PIN to secure the device, which makes it more difficult for an unauthorized user to access the device.
Android Application Testing | Mobile App Testing
In this video, We are explaining Android Application Testing | Mobile App Testing - Ethical Hacking. Please do watch the complete video for in-depth information.
Top Android Security Issues and Limitations
Now that we have seen how many layers add up to protect users’ data and resources. It’s time to look into Android’s top security issues and limitations:
Malware is any software that is designed to harm or exploit a system. It can come in many forms viruses, trojans, and spyware.
The open-source nature of Android makes it particularly more vulnerable to malware. Since users can download applications from third-party sources outside of Google Play Store, they are more prone to activate malware on their devices leaving a serious security issue.
2. Lack of End-to-End Encryption
As we discussed in the Android security model, Android does have some encryption features. However, it does not have end-to-end encryption, meaning third parties can intercept the data during its transmission.
Phishing is a tactic used by cybercriminals to trick their targets into revealing personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers, by disguising themselves as legitimate institution. These can be done through malicious emails, text messages, or apps.
4. Device theft
Smartphones have become more expensive these days, thus becoming a popular target for thieves. This poses a security threat to any user using a smartphone.
5. Limited Customization
Android is not as customizable as other mobile operating systems in the marketplace. This makes it more difficult for users to have control over their device’s security settings.
6. Security Vulnerabilities
Many older Android versions are no longer supported by Google and do not receive any security updates. This means those versions will be affected the most by any security threats and will be easily exploited.
7. Limited User Awareness
Since users are unaware of security settings on their devices, they can’t take full advantage of the available protections.
Android Security Enforcement and Measures
It might look like the Android security model and Android enhancements are the same, they are related to each other but not the same. An Android security model is the foundation on which android enhancements are made, android enhancements are the additional security features that are added to improve each layer in the security model.
To help protect users, there are several enforcement measures planned to encounter those issues:
1. Google Play Protect
Google Play Protect is a feature built into Google Play Store. It is designed to protect users from downloading malicious applications and also to keep their devices free from security threats.
It provides a way for users to check the safety of the installed applications and signal them if any malicious application has been found. Google Play Protect is enabled by default in Google Play Store and runs in the background of the device, so users don’t have to do anything.
Google has a set of security guidelines and protocols to protect users from any kind of threat. SafetyNet helps to detect and protect devices from vulnerabilities by checking the device’s firmware and software against Google’s safety guidelines.
3. ASLR (Address Space Layout Randomization)
Google has added this feature to make it more difficult for attackers to predict the location of specific data in the user’s device’s memory. This in turn helps to prevent buffer overflow attacks.
4. Google Security Metrics
Google Security Metrics is a program developed by Google to help app developers identify and fix any vulnerabilities in their applications. This program has a set of security guidelines and best practices that app developers can follow to ensure their apps are as secure as possible.
When an app is submitted to Google Play Store, it will be scanned for security vulnerabilities using Google’s automated tools. If these tools found any security threat, it is immediately notified to the developers and will also be provided with specific recommendation on how to fix the same.
5. Android Security Patch Level
Security patches are an enhancement to the Android Operating System. They are intended to protect the device from potential security threats, such as malware, phishing, and other types of cyberattacks.
These patches are usually released on a regular schedule, such as monthly, and they have fixes for known vulnerabilities in Android Operating System. It is recommended that users check for security updates regularly and install them as soon as possible.
6. SE Android (Security Enhanced Android)
This feature provides an additional layer of security by enforcing the security policies at the kernel level.
In conclusion, Android is the most famous and functional operating system, however, it comes with its own set of risks and vulnerabilities. It also has a fair share of limitations that can affect the security and usability of the platform. However, Google and the Android AOSP community have implemented many enhancements over the years to improve the security of the Android Operating System. It is also important for us users to stay vigilant and keep our devices updated!