Google’s Passive-Aggressive Approach to Android Security and Timely Updates

Rafia Shaikh
Posted Sep 30, 2015
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Pushing software updates concurrently to millions of Android devices on several different carriers, designed by a myriad of manufacturers has never been a success story for Google. While this means users get new features months – and sometimes years – after they are showcased by Google, it also carries its own share of some serious security repercussions.

Android security to improve with Marshmallow?

As devices lag behind Google’s recommended security updates, several manufacturers promised to adopt a monthly update scheme after the recent Stagefright exploit was discovered in Android. To get manufacturers, carriers and users in sync, Google is trying to do a small little thing with the upcoming Android 6.0 Marshmallow – releasing next week. This small feature shows the date of the latest security update pushed to a user’s device. This security update date would let the users know when their devices last received the security update, promised by many manufacturers. While it is not an aggressive measure from Google to push mandatory monthly updates, the tactic will help put some light on those who are lagging behind sending out these updates.

From Google’s perspective, it would help manufacturers be more proactive when it comes to updates as no one would want to be the one risking users’ security. So is the plan. Would it work or not, and more importantly, how carriers and manufacturers will react to it, is yet to be seen. But if it works, we might finally see a shift to more timely and faster Android updates.

Android 5.0 Lollipop, released in November last year, is still only installed on about 21% of the Android devices, a year after its rollout started. While users won’t be able to force update on their own, Google hopes to see this putting the pressure on the network of carriers and manufacturers to solve this problem. “We see them changing the way they do business in order to satisfy that. I think in the next few months, we’ll see many many devices being updated on a monthly basis,” hopes Adrian Ludwig, head of Android Security. However, if this doesn’t work out, then Google will have to take a more hardline stance and start mandating its partners to push out timely updates.

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Users will be able to find the last update date under Settings > Android security patch level, which will show you the date.

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