Android under fire again for poor vulnerability patching

More than half of Android devices worldwide have unpatched vulnerabilities

Carriers and device managers continue to be slow at patching Android devices, as the number of malware targeting the mobile operating system soars, recent studies show.

Two security vendor reports released last week point to the continuation of a longstanding problem with Android devices. The platform remains the prime target for malware, yet there's no easy way for users to keep the software up to date with the latest patches.

In the latest findings, Duo Security collected results from 20,000 Android devices that users had scanned with the company's X-Ray vulnerability assessment tool, which became generally available a couple of months ago.

Based on the results, Duo estimates that more than half of Android devices worldwide have unpatched vulnerabilities.

"We feel this is actually a fairly conservative estimate based on our preliminary results, the current set of vulnerabilities detected by X-Ray, and the current distribution of Android versions globally," Jon Oberheide, Duo's chief technology officer, said in a blog post.

[In depth: Mobile device security - 5 questions to ask when creating policy (includes video)]

Duo's findings are in line with a Bit9 report released this year. The security vendor found that 56% of Android phones in the marketplace in 2011 were running out of date and insecure versions of the software. Device manufacturers found to be slow in upgrading phones included Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sanyo, LG and Sony.

In the meantime, Sophos reported last week that the number of newly discovered malware for Android has increased 41 times this year over 2011, based on samples collected by the vendor's lab.

Almost half of the increase comes from a family of toll fraud malware targeting Eastern European markets. Toll fraud is when a malicious app secretly sends text messages from a hijacked phone to paid services. Cybercriminals typically get a cut of the generated revenue.

Closer to home, the biggest threat in the U.S. is new apps that contain aggressive advertising tactics that cross the privacy line. The more aggressive apps place links for sponsored apps in the phone's launcher area, display advertising even when the app is not running and send the user's personal information to the advertising server. These tactics are often in violation of Google's ad policy for Android.

Overall, the studies reinforce what security experts have known for years: Android fragmentation is an ongoing risk for users.

Unlike iOS, which only Apple controls on the iPhone and iPad, the Android market has many vendors using many versions of the platform. This translates into a mishmash of patching strategies made more complicated by carriers responsible for pushing out updates.

"Some carriers push out patches sooner than others, and some users install patches sooner than others," said Chenxi Wang, an analyst for Forrester Research. "No one should really be surprised that more than half of Android devices have unpatched flaws. Would the situation get better any time soon? I don't see it."

While no easy solution is in sight, Android malware is on the rise, which increases the risk to users with unpatched phones, Wang said. However, mobile malware is not at the level of maturity as malicious apps built to exploit vulnerabilities in PCs, so the danger to Android users is far less.

"You can survive not having updated your phone OS for some time, but you cannot survive if you don't update your [antivirus] or OS patches for your PC," Wang said.

The level of risk to Android users is a longstanding debate in the industry. While antivirus vendors are a steady source of threat research, Google has said they are hyping the risk to sell their products.

Read more about wireless/mobile security in CSOonline's Wireless/Mobile Security section.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Antone Gonsalves

Show Comments

Cool Tech

D-Link TAIPAN AC3200 Ultra Wi-Fi Modem Router (DSL-4320L)

Learn more >

ASUS ROG Swift PG279Q – Reign beyond virtual world

Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

D-Link PowerLine AV2 2000 Gigabit Network Kit

Learn more >

Crucial® BX200 SATA 2.5” 7mm (with 9.5mm adapter) Internal Solid State Drive

Learn more >

Gadgets & Things

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >


Learn more >

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Family Friendly

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

ASUS VivoPC VM62 - Incredibly Powerful, Unbelievably Small

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Lexar® Professional 1000x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Lexar Professional 2000x SDHC™/SDXC™ UHS-II cards

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Best Deals on Good Gear Guide

Latest News Articles


GGG Evaluation Team

Kathy Cassidy


First impression on unpacking the Q702 test unit was the solid feel and clean, minimalist styling.

Anthony Grifoni


For work use, Microsoft Word and Excel programs pre-installed on the device are adequate for preparing short documents.

Steph Mundell


The Fujitsu LifeBook UH574 allowed for great mobility without being obnoxiously heavy or clunky. Its twelve hours of battery life did not disappoint.

Andrew Mitsi


The screen was particularly good. It is bright and visible from most angles, however heat is an issue, particularly around the Windows button on the front, and on the back where the battery housing is located.

Simon Harriott


My first impression after unboxing the Q702 is that it is a nice looking unit. Styling is somewhat minimalist but very effective. The tablet part, once detached, has a nice weight, and no buttons or switches are located in awkward or intrusive positions.


Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?