Over half of Android devices have unpatched vulnerabilities, report says

Results from X-Ray vulnerability scanner show that over half of Android devices are vulnerable to root exploits

Over half of Android devices are vulnerable to known security flaws that can be exploited by malicious applications to gain complete access to the operating system and the data stored on it, according to a report from mobile security firm Duo Security.

This conclusion is based on scans performed during the last couple of months with X-Ray, a free Android vulnerability assessment tool developed by Duo Security. X-Ray scans devices for known privilege escalation vulnerabilities that exist in various versions of the mobile operating system.

"Since we launched X-Ray, we've already collected results from over 20,000 Android devices worldwide," security researcher Jon Oberheide, who is co-founder and CTO of Duo Security, said Wednesday in a blog post.

Privilege vulnerabilities can be exploited willingly by users in order to gain administrator (root) access on their devices and, for example, replace the firmware provided by the manufacturer with a custom-built one.

However, they can also be exploited by malware for malicious purposes and there have been multiple documented cases of Android malware that incorporated root exploits over the years.

"Since the launch of our mobile security solution, root exploits have been some of the most frequently encountered threats," Bogdan Botezatu, a senior e-threat analyst at antivirus vendor BitDefender, said Friday via email.

For example, during the first quarter of 2012, the top 10 detected Android threats included the "Rage Against The Cage" exploit, the "GingerBreak" exploit, the "Exploid" exploit and the "Asroot" exploit, Botezatu said.

Some of those cases might have been caused by users who were attempting to "root" their devices. However, others were likely generated by malicious apps that used those exploits, Botezatu said.

Over 50 percent is actually a fairly conservative estimate, Oberheide said. "Yes, it's a scary number, but it exemplifies how important expedient patching is to mobile security and how poorly the industry (carriers, device manufacturers, etc) has performed thus far."

The slow deployment of security patches to Android devices is a problem that has been known of for years. Manufacturers stop issuing updates for some device models too quickly and even when they do issue updates, some carriers don't distribute them in a timely manner.

"In the Microsoft ecosystem, desktop users know that patches are provided for quite a while, just like what happened with Windows XP," Botezatu said. "Mobile carriers, on the other side, see the mobile device, as well as the operating system running atop of it as a wearable item that rapidly goes out of fashion and has a shorter lifespan than desktops or laptops."

"While it's well-known in the security community that slow patching of vulnerabilities on mobile devices is a serious issue, we wanted to bring greater visibility to the problem," Oberheide said. The researcher will present the preliminary results from the X-Ray project at the United Security Summit conference in San Francisco on Friday.

Join the newsletter!

Or

Sign up to gain exclusive access to email subscriptions, event invitations, competitions, giveaways, and much more.

Membership is free, and your security and privacy remain protected. View our privacy policy before signing up.

Error: Please check your email address.
Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.
Lucian Constantin

Lucian Constantin

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Brand Post

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Tom Pope

Dynabook Portégé X30L-G

Ultimately this laptop has achieved everything I would hope for in a laptop for work, while fitting that into a form factor and weight that is remarkable.

Tom Sellers

MSI P65

This smart laptop was enjoyable to use and great to work on – creating content was super simple.

Lolita Wang

MSI GT76

It really doesn’t get more “gaming laptop” than this.

Jack Jeffries

MSI GS75

As the Maserati or BMW of laptops, it would fit perfectly in the hands of a professional needing firepower under the hood, sophistication and class on the surface, and gaming prowess (sports mode if you will) in between.

Taylor Carr

MSI PS63

The MSI PS63 is an amazing laptop and I would definitely consider buying one in the future.

Christopher Low

Brother RJ-4230B

This small mobile printer is exactly what I need for invoicing and other jobs such as sending fellow tradesman details or step-by-step instructions that I can easily print off from my phone or the Web.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?