Samsung to fix Android’s biggest weakness: slow patching

Samsung, the world’s largest Android vendor, says it will fix the sluggish patching process that's suffered by owners of most Android devices except for Google’s Nexus line.

It seems the recent discovery of the scary Stagefright security bug, which affected the majority of the one billion Android devices in use today, has forced a change that could be a big win for consumers.

Samsung announced on Wednesday that it will implement a new security update process that “fast tracks the security patches over the air when security vulnerabilities are uncovered.” The security updates will occur once per month, it added. The change in tack was a direct response to Stagefright and the legwork it did with carriers to ensure the update reached its customers swiftly.

“We believe that this new process will vastly improve the security of our devices and will aim to provide the best mobile experience possible for our users,” said Dong Jin Koh, Samsung’s executive vice president and head of mobile research.

The move comes at a critical time for Samsung, which has failed to come up with an answer to Apple’s iPhone 6 and Chinese rivals such as Xiaomi.

While researchers have uncovered hundreds of security flaws in Android during Google’s rise to prominence in mobile over past seven years, Stagefright, revealed in July by researcher Joshua Drake, was different.

Besides affecting the vast majority of Android devices, a vulnerable device, regardless of the model, could be hacked simply by receiving an MMS message. That is, with no trickery required on the part of the attacker to get the user to click links or download a malicious file.

Stagefright highlighted the chief problem Android users face when new Android flaws are discovered — sometimes described as fragmentation — since each vendor and sometimes carriers too need to develop and test their patches that Google develops and eventually makes publicly available via the Android Open Source Project (AOSP).

In this case, Drake disclosed the Stagefright bugs and fixes to Google in April and early May, which Google patched in its internal Android code base within 48 hours.

Read more: Trusting, lazy humans a common theme in recent security vulnerabilities

IDG’s Lucian Constantin noted that the code is then shared with Samsung and other OEMs in the Android Handset Alliance before it’s released publicly to AOSP.

But it was doubtful when carriers and handset makers would deliver that fix to end-user devices. And given Android handset makers’ patchy record of delivering security updates, there was a chance handset owners wouldn't receive a patch at all.

Samsung however did roll out for its Galaxy Note 4 this week to address the issue, Android Police reported, and this is appears to be what the company is building upon.

The Korean company doesn’t provide more detail about its new processes other than to say that security updates will be addressed by working with carriers and partners to develop a “timely security update practice”.

Samsung added that it is in talks with with carriers around the world to implement the new approach and will release “more details about the specific models and timelines” soon.

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Tags VulnerabilitiesAndroidmobileStagefrightCSO AustraliapatchLucian ConstantinXiaomiGoogle’s NexussamsungJin Koh

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