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I guess this means we can officially stop hating on Microsoft for having such a lax attitude towards security, considering their last OS to suffer from that attitude was released 16 years ago, and it accounts for less than 3% of present day traffic according to statcounter.com

Meanwhile according to the same stats, Android sits around 37.9%, and I have to wonder just how many of those devices are still impacted by for example the 2015 libstagefright vulnerability. Given Google's guiltless ongoing "throw code over the wall" approach to security and passing the buck on to vendors who almost never ship firmware updates for old handsets, perhaps now is the time for us to begin holding Google to the same standard we applied to Microsoft a decade ago.

Google Security Team, here's your call to stop pontificating on the Project Zero blog and throwing cheap muck at Microsoft. You've got an even bigger and more complicated mess to clean up, you dug the hole yourself, it's going to take you longer, and you should have started on it years ago

edit: If it weren't clear, the tragedy here is that instead of most devices being governed by a well-tested security process owned by a single responsible vendor, they're at the mercy of a plethora of downstream vendors who do nothing, with the ultimate upstream washing its hands and paying little more than immature lip service to the issue, never mind having anything that even remotely resembles a solid process.




> you should have started on it years ago

As somebody who has been following Android for a while, this statement is incredibly unfair. The Android ecosystem is huge and remarkably safe. For those actually interested in the details, the Android security team releases annual security reviews, and the report for 2016 was just released: https://security.googleblog.com/2017/03/diverse-protections-...

The tldr: the number of devices with a harmful app is 0.05%, and for 1.5B devices extremely impressive. Basically, if you only install apps from Google Play and never enable unknown sources (the default and the vast majority of users) you are safe.

While the argument that most devices aren't running the latest security patch is certainly valid, it's important to note that there are many services running on device and in the cloud provided by Google which are doing most of the heavy lifting. If anything, the example of Stagefright actually shows the safety of Android - many many devices have never received any security patch to address Stagefright and yet most users aren't affected.


Citing Google's blog post for Android security is not very convincing. If Android is so secure, why are we seeing (often more frequently than) weekly headlines on Android security woes, often containing something like "millions of devices affected" (and often enough, no fix in sight)?

Also, quote from linked blog post:

> only 0.05 percent of devices that downloaded apps exclusively from Play contained a PHA.

1. What percentage of Android devices download apps exclusively from Play? They don't say. I, for one, have quite a few not so technical friends who sideload stuff. Also, pretty much all Android devices in Mainland China don't qualify for this criterion, and that's a huge number.

2. Given the track record of malware in Play Store, the number of devices containing a PHA is probably much larger than that of ones containing a known PHA.

> many many devices have never received any security patch to address Stagefright and yet most users aren't affected.

Not sure how you even know that. Not all exploits are visible.


In today's media environment is it strange scary-sounding headlines are published without deep analysis or actual evidence to back them up? But headlines saying devices are vulnerable is not evidence that the Android users are adversely impacted by PHA.

On the other hand, I referenced a report with actual numbers of devices impacted. Obviously you should be skeptical, but as you point out, if millions of devices affected is true, shouldn't we be seeing millions of instances of Android spam, remote roots, SMS fraud, botnets, etc.?

Yes, it is true that some users sideload, and threats to Android users vary a lot by country. There is only so much Google can reasonably do, and this is appropriate given Android is open source and has so many participants (device vendors, carriers, app stores, etc.). But it turns out with good integration with the developers, the distribution platform, and regular check ups, you can do a decent job at protecting your users.

You can also compare to other platforms and recall how devastating actual malware on Windows was, and how long Microsoft struggled (and still struggles) to protect their users. In Android, yes there are many vulnerabilities like Stagefright found, but in the end Android users are surprisingly safe.


> ... scary-sounding headlines are published without deep analysis or actual evidence to back them up...

Scary-sounding headlines, sure. But there usually is actual evidence.

> I referenced a report with actual numbers of devices impacted.

No, there is no "actual numbers of devices impacted". A number 1.4 billion is thrown out to impress; the pool of devices to which their analysis applies is much smaller, and of which only a percentage is given.

> if millions of devices affected is true, shouldn't we be seeing millions of instances of Android spam, remote roots, SMS fraud, botnets, etc.?

First, what you mentioned do exist. Maybe not in large numbers (not sure), but there's no guarantee they're not rising. Secondly, there are plenty of easier and more profitable channels for hackers these days. Please don't equate vulnerabilities not being exploited with being invulnerable.

> There is only so much Google can reasonably do.

Changing the subject? I was responding to "The Android ecosystem is huge and remarkably safe", and specifically how you quoted the blog post to back that up.

> ... in the end Android users are surprisingly safe.

Webcam users are surprisingly safe too. Not realizing their webcams are DDoS'ing some poor website right now, or their video feed is being streamed online.


> Scary-sounding headlines, sure. But there usually is actual evidence.

Actually, there usually isn't any evidence. Scary headlines sell, finding evidence is a hard work that most readers will not understand anyway. Guess what happens then.


>Citing Google's blog post for Android security is not very convincing.

So instead of believing metrics gathered from Google's SafetyNet telemetry from 1.4 billion devices you would rather believe scaremongering blog posts that have no concrete data to back up their claims?

>If Android is so secure, why are we seeing (often more frequently than) weekly headlines on Android security woes, often containing something like "millions of devices affected" (and often enough, no fix in sight)?

Do you really think it's that easy to exploit an Android phone? Once you have an exploit you must then chain it with other exploits to get around all of the Android security mitigation's in place. And then there's the fact that every OEM creates their own version of Android so not every exploit will work on every device or OS version - you can thank device and OS fragmentation for that one.

So this is why bugs like Stagefright never panned out to be the security armageddon that these click bait blog sites all wanted you to believe. Just because an exploit is discovered doesn't really mean it's being exploited in the wild.


> Just because an exploit is discovered doesn't really mean it's being exploited in the wild.

This becomes less and less true every year.


Most Android issues arise due to either vendors which don't update the devices, or malicious vendors that actually pre-install malware (beware of phones ordered from aliexpress etc ...).

Android is open source, after all. Not much Google can do there.


Why wouldn't a device receive updates when the manufacturer abandons it? Most laptops from 2008 long abandoned by their manufacturers still run Windows 10.

If Microsoft can pull it off Google can do it too. No excuses.


>weekly headlines on Android security woes

stagefright is the last major Android vulnerability I'm aware of. Do you have sources for these? In my experience it's far less than weekly. Maybe yearly at most.


I could be exaggerating a little bit, but do check https://arstechnica.com/security/.


And where is your proof that Stagefright is actively being exploited? All you did was point to a scaremongering blog post with no data.

According to Adrian Ludwig, Android security director, not 1 Stagefright exploit has ever been seen in the wild according to the telemetry they receive from SafetyNet and the 1.4 billion devices it's installed on.


Would a successful targeted exploit be detected?


Yes.

Source: ask any female hollywood celebrity.


What about the Vault 7 releases?


> 1. What percentage of Android devices download apps exclusively from Play?

The entirety of China doesn't even have Google Play Store.


That's hardly Google's fault.


It's directly Google's fault that even the Play Store app isn't available. They make Google Play not easily installable. Their own help page says, after looking for the app:

"If the Google Play Store app still isn't showing up, contact your carrier or manufacturer for help. "


Who's fault is it? Why doesn't Google allow it to be installed on all devices?


>Who's fault is it?

Chinese Government.

>Why doesn't Google allow it to be installed on all devices?

You can install it on devices (with varying difficulty depending on if you can unlock bootloader). It just doesn't come pre-installed on any device sold within China.


While you certainly can, it isn't legal to do so. Plus it might not work very well.


I think there is a difference between Google branded Android and AOSP (Android Open Source). Anybody (users or carriers or phone manufacturers) can build and install AOSP, and Google can't provide updates or force them to install Google play store. Also, AOSP being open source is easier to tinker with (install apps from unverified sources etc.).

When media reports security bugs for Android, it is hardly clear whether the bugs affect AOSP or the Google branded Android, and to what extend.


Why would you even count the lack of security for devices which are sideloading apps at all? I mean, there's a clear section in Android Settings called 'Security', and there's an option there to enable installing apps from Unknown Sources(set to OFF by default). When you try to enable that, it says this in clear words: "Your phone and personal data are more vulnerable to attack by apps from unknown sources. You agree that you are solely responsible for any damage to your phone or loss of data that may result from using these apps."

So if I give you a knife to cut fruits, and clearly tell you that you can also do juggling with it but it's not recommended and you should do it at your own risk, will you still blame me if you get hurt by knife juggling?


> 1. What percentage of Android devices download apps exclusively from Play? They don't say. I, for one, have quite a few not so technical friends who sideload stuff.

I also have an anecdote to share. The only app I've sideloaded and helped others sideload was the one I created myself. Out of 10 teenagers who are the most probably to tinker, 0 of them usually install apps from sources outside of the play store.


Wait a minute - users were requesting for years that Google change the permissions model of the Play Store from upfront to runtime permissions (like iOS does).

Google constantly shot that down and said how it works (agree to everything before downloading) was intentional and expected behaviour. They have finally changed that model now, but in my opinion this was pretty inexcusable and reckless.

I was unable to find the issue in the Android bug tracker now, but it's a pretty long thread.


I think "inexcusable" is very strong.

Maybe "lazy" is the best word, but moving from Android's classic "grant permissions on install" to "prompt for permission" is a major change that they spent a long time working on (I think Android 4 already had a lot of the backend for this?).

It's not like it was secretly granting permissions to apps, and you could always choose to not install something that took too many permissions.

You could say they made the wrong choice, but we're a long way from "this binary can do everything on your files" model of Unices/Windows


Inexcusable may be strong - but I wish I could find the thread I was referring to.

Perhaps they were working on it for a long time, but they were actively defending their stance for years after many people were requesting this, and after many incidents of Play Store apps intentionally doing more than expected (uploading contact lists, tracking location, etc...).

As someone who has developed and published Android apps, it was super frustrating to spend half your app description justifying each and every permission used, and still getting negative reviews simply because you had to request some scary looking permission for the most mundane feature addition.


iOS's permissions model is patented [0]. It takes some lawyer trickery to implement something that doesn't run afoul of the patent.

[0] https://www.google.com/patents/US8646100


You mean the same report where they cleverly omit the actual situation about updates across Android devices, by only mentioning flagship devices sold in 2016?


The purpose of the report is not say what the update situation is across Android devices, Google has a monthly dashboard for that: https://developer.android.com/about/dashboards/index.html

If you're interested in the Android update situation, Adrian Ludwig just gave a talk at Next, the Google cloud conference about it (he even references the Wikileaks CIA breach): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zm6ziX5pqt8

He talks about the task starting with only 5 OEMs to keep their flagships updated. And you start to see the insane complexity of running the update train: this meant 29 devices. Multiply by the 351 carrier partners, which goes to 5000+ builds and variants. That all need to be tested by all the parties. =/


The fact that the report doesn't even mention that there people like me that don't deserve updates, just because we aren't willing to pay over 500 € is what triggered me off.

The dasboard tracks versions in the wild, not the amount of users that were blessed with an update.

The report is presented in such a way, as if during 2016 the OEMs had a change of heart and now all provide updates.


Be careful what you wish for, my middle tier Motorola phone got an update a couple of weeks ago and has been crashing several times daily ever since. I'm not convinced their patching schedule is enough to make a real difference anyway.


It sounds Google like has an even bigger and more complicated mess to clean up than Microsoft! But they dug the hole themselves, it's going to take them longer to fix it, and they should have started on it years ago.


> Basically, if you only install apps from Google Play and never enable unknown sources (the default and the vast majority of users) you are safe.

Except for the half a billion Chinese Android users who can't access Google Play.


Yeah I'm one of the Chinese users. You can never over estimate how expertised the Chinese apps are on stealing privacy.

Android smartphones sold in China almost always have unknown sources enabled.


Bullshit. I've never had a kernel update in six plus years from my carrier. And while they are kind of a micky-mouse operation, they are the 5th leading mobile provider in the US...

P.S. don't get service from US Cellular if there are other options


You aren't going to get kernel updates, even if you get major Android version update.

It's kind of like with RHEL - the fixes are backported in the old kernel vesion and that's it. It has nothing to do with your operator, you can thank Qualcomm and other SoC manufacturers, that they are not willing to make platform support packages for newer kernels for a given chip.


This isn't counting apps that are stealing people's data with their "permission" thanks to shitty UI design and google not caring.


The difference being that you can install or upgrade Windows on a system without buying a new laptop or requiring support from the vendor; the vendor doesn't lock down laptops to prevent upgrades and force people to buy a new device instead.


Which is mostly a problem that Google themselves architected into Android. By not building a sensible HAL in to android like requiring ACPI in the hardware for the first android phones (especially the moto droid which they worked on closely with Motorola), they condemned us all to vendors-specific kernels and bootloaders.

Google's inept 'management' of the android ecosystem has left us with openness for hardware vendors like Samsung but not end users. Their design of android deprives end users of regular security updates that iOS users enjoy but also deprives them of the right-to-modify that licenses like the GPL were intended to guarantee.

I don't know what everyone at Google intended, beyond 'let's beat Apple', but the way android turned out looks awfully evil to me.


On the Nexus 5X/6P and some other new phones, there's a separate /vendor partition for proprietary blobs that can be updated separately from your Android distro (which is at /system). Granted, the Nexus is Google-related and I'm not sure if that's the case on other devices…

By the way, the upstream Linux kernel supports the Nexus 5X! http://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=Linux-4.9...

And the bootloaders are based on fastboot pretty much everywhere I think? At least that was the case with the non-Google-related HTC phone I've had.


Samsung's Odin bootloaders are not based on fastboot (or at least I don't think they are). And whatever they are based on, the problem is that they can be locked, depriving end-users of their right-to-modify. And that Google went out of their way at every turn in Android's development to reimplement GPL components with permissive licenses (like Bionic) that would enable hardware vendors to engage in this sort of dickery.

Android is the emblem and sigil of Tivo-ization. And Google was the key enabler of this. I get that this was successful - after all, "Android overtakes Windows as the blah, blah," is very successful. And maybe if Google had behaved ethically Android wouldn't have been the success that it is. Just don't give me any of the "don't be evil" BS. When threatened, Google was every bit as evil as Microsoft was at the height of the browser wars.


Google was just realistic at the time. ARM boards do not have platform services at firmware level, nor plug and play buses like PCI. If Google required that in 2008, Android would have market share similar to Sailfish or FirefoxOS.

Have look at Redhat, how far got them requiring UEFI at server ARM boards. That's market, where the buyers have much more impact on the design than mobile.


Is that our problem or Google's? You can point fingers at 50 different companies in the ecosystem, or you can collectively point the finger at the root cause. By the topic of this article, they're no longer the underdog when it comes to dictating terms to device vendors, they're the biggest shop in town and there's no reason the vulns-frozen-for-life-of-device model should continue to be adhered to.


This represents such a fundamental misunderstanding of the power structures i almost don't know where to begin.

Suffice to say, if it was as easy as waving the magic wand you think it is, it would have happened already.

Instead, if you tried to wave it, handset makers would have walked and just done something else. Heck, some did!

Besides, why stop at Google? Why not blame the carriers for devices like this be on their networks?

By your logic, if Verizon told Samsung tomorrow said "you must update your phone monthly with security updates in order to stay connected to our network" it would have just happened!

Maybe instead of assuming a vast lack of caring or outright maliciousnss, you should consider that maybe it's not the trivial thing you are making it out to be, and that's the real reason it hasn't happened yet.


>Instead, if you tried to wave it, handset makers would have walked and just done something else. Heck, some did!

Yes some have and some more would have. And then it would have been up to these holdouts to come up with a viable OS. Good luck with that. Almost everybody who tried has failed.

There is no doubt in my mind that Google could force it successfully, but why would they? Everything is moving in their direction anyway and users don't seem fazed.


By the same logic: Why wouldn't they?

Surely Google is not intentionally refraining from solving the high fragmentation it is suffering from (which makes developing for Android harder, and keeps some people from receiving security updates)


>Why wouldn't they?

Because it causes friction, it's a distraction for management, and there is a danger that some of those rebel handset makers could have some success or get poached by Microsoft/Bing even if they fail at creating an alternative OS.

There is risk without much upside for Google compared to the gradual approach they are taking now.


Or it is within Googles power, but not within Googles interest to do so, so we in turn have power by getting outraged at Google, shouting from the rooftops and creating an incentive for them to apply more pressure to handset makers.

Walking away from Android is not currently a realistic option for most of them (recent Sony Sailfish news non-withstanding).


You are right, they are just being completely self interested and it would all just work out happily if only they would just beat people over the head repeatedly. That has worked out so great in the past for them and others, and would not result in Android being abandoned wholesale for something worse inside of two years.

If only they had thought of this. Oh, that's right, I forgot, it's not that this is much more nuanced and complex ecosystem interplay, it's that it's very black and white and they uniformly don't give a crap.


I mostly agree with you (Mencken's famous Quote about complex problems comes to mind), but I don't think we shouldn't assume no responsibility on Google's end either. This whole economy of "throw-away devices" without much more than a couple of very late patches seems to have been facilitated in ordes to boost Android's adoption - which arguably worked out for them.

Sadly this also leaves us with the current sorry state of affairs. I don't think much "could've" and "would've" would be helping there, but I would very much like to see a major economic force guaranteeing some common grounds for devices. Imagine what an "IBM clone era" of phones could mean - all it would take would be a common ground w.r.t booting and a couple of drivers.

Sometimes I'm really left wondering why we can't have such nice things...


If they cared one second about it, they would have changed the terms of access to the Google services.

The sad part is that the 2016 security report just came out and they brag how the whole security improved, without mentioning the elephant in the room.

Google IO is around the corner and I bet they will keep talking as if everyone could upgrade right away to Android O, with N now having barely 2%.


And that even google-sourced devices have a very short lifecycle for OS and security updates. Google seem to be running under the assumption any phone over 12 months old is reaching the end of its usable life.


Google has a engineering philosophy of constantly deprecating old stuff. They largely ignore backward compatibility and stop supporting stuff all the time. Their SOAP API for AdWords would break if it wasn't updated every 3 months and this is an API for paying Google money! They are trying to do this in the consumer space, but I don't think this is going to work for things like Nest where people don't want to have to upgrade their thermostat to the new model every year.


Nothing unique to Google. I have taken to consider it the Web-Dev/push-To-Prod mentality. This because on the web a change is a page reload away.

And this mentality is eating its way into all corners of IT as there is a generational changing of the guards. More and more Linus Torvalds (Linux) and Daniel Stenberg (cURL) staying with a project for decades are massive outliers rather than a norm.


Well, if you use your phone a lot you kind of have to buy a new phone regardless. Non-replaceable batteries should be illegal.


An ARM Chromebook that I bought more than 4 years ago still receives updates.


So does my 9 year old HP Elitebook running Win10 now. The problem is that vendors are allowed a say in the matter. If MS used the Android model I'm sure PCs wouldn't be update either.


Yes and no. While Google will backport security fixes, and change the Chrome related layer, the kernel version you are running is likely the very same one your Chromebook shipped with.

This is why they can claim that anything shipped from 2017 onwards will support Android apps, but maintain a list of potential devices from before that. Because said support need various container related features only found in newer kernels to work.

Effectively Google has further masked but not really fixed the issues that makes major updates to Android devices such a hassle.


Google did updated kernel on the Chromebook. It happened at least 3 times IIRC.


A Google device receives security updates for 36 months. Not sure where you pulled your 12 months from.


Ah I'm a little salty because although you get security updates for 3 years you only get feature updates for 18 months. Combine that with the fact the Google so poorly plan their product releases that supply is constrained for the first 6 months of the product lifecycle. So in practice someone who manages to buy a device when they're generally available has at best a year to get updates for their shiny new $500-$900 device. It was egregious when a new Nexus device was $500+, now it's outrageous.

The Pixel XL was released in October of 2017 which means updates stop one year away from today in April of 2019. Top of the line is $968 and you want top of the line for best memory performance. Why buy one of those phones and purchase sub par performance? It's a waste of money. So if I wanted one I'd pay $80/month for a device that's replaced in October of this year (Pixel 2 is supposedly an end-of-year release) and dropped from feature upgrades not too long after that.

Google need to fix their feature window by extending it to two years and fix their supply pipeline by ordering apple-like quantities of product. Otherwise they're not really competing with Apple.


Google has broken out GMS from android core so that they can do OTA updates w/o updating the OS itself. I do agree this needs to be better, however its also a non-trivial problem to solve.


How is signing a contract, with the respective legal consequences for breach of contract, a non-trivial problem to solve?


Because suing customers is sure to improve things! That's definitely the path to greater cooperation and goodness. Do you really believe any of these companies would sign that instead of going with whatever plan b is? If so, I guess n-gate is right.

But let's follow this silly thread anyway. On average, the lawsuit would take three to seven years to resolve.

Assume they win: great, they get some small amount of damages and everyone stops using Android. They can't and won't ever get the remedy of forcing security updates. It's not even something available.

Assume they lose: great, they get nothing and everyone stops using Android.

...

What did this solve again?


Let them stop selling phones with Android, create their own forks and lets see whose devices the public will bother to buy.


Everyone (who buys Google phones) can upgrade right away. It's not Google's fault that the other manufacturers refuse to update their products in a timely manner. The responsibility for these devices lies solely with the manufacturer.


Surely it is their fault, because Google is the very first to give the example of selling devices more expensive than desktop computers, above the minimum wage in many countries, with updates limited to 2 years (+1 for some fixes).

As for the other OEMs, there is this thing called contracts and legal obligations.

No updates, no access to Google services from invalid devices.

It is as easy as that, if Google actually cared about the consumers.


[flagged]


Isn't 36 months 2 + 1 years?

Also, the point is still valid that 36 months (or 3 years) is still rather short security lifetime for a device. At some point (presumably soon now that carriers are dropping most device subsidies) the 2 year replacement scheme of mobile devices stops being sustainable and you do start to have to deal with the long tail of people sticking to 5-15 year old hardware devices.

Google seems to have little interest in anything beyond the short horizon and that security tech debt is going to come due.


>Isn't 36 months 2 + 1 years?

He stated "+1 for some fixes" which is incorrect as it implies that you may not get all of the security fixes for that additional year and only "some" of them.

>Also, the point is still valid that 36 months (or 3 years) is still rather short security lifetime for a device. At some point (presumably soon now that carriers are dropping most device subsidies) the 2 year replacement scheme of mobile devices stops being sustainable and you do start to have to deal with the long tail of people sticking to 5-15 year old hardware devices.

I agree it is rather short and the sooner Android OEM's can move from an SoC supplier, like Qualcomm, that only provides BSP support for 2 years the better.


«He stated "+1 for some fixes" which is incorrect as it implies that you may not get all of the security fixes for that additional year and only "some" of them.»

Interesting.

The OP's statement was for "upgrades" not security fixes; I read it as 2 years upgrades and 1 for security fixes beyond feature upgrades. The choice of "some" was ambiguous, but "upgrades" is much less ambiguous to me than you seem to consider and not something I'd directly confuse with "security fixes" alone and something that the (+ 1) seemed to directly add "security feature" context to me, despite the ambiguous wording.

Though that still raises the question of if Google properly subsets general (feature) upgrades and security fixes across that 2 + 1 time period. The ambiguous word choice of "some" could be an editorial indication that the OP considers that Google is likely to release some fixes in more general upgrades that don't fall into that (+ 1) time period. As a non-Android user/follower, I have no knowledge in that area and no opinion to offer of my own if that may in fact be the case. I'm also not the OP so I can't express whether or not that was an editorial opinion.

Even if it was an editorial opinion that was expressed, I'm still not convinced it was "disingenuous on purpose", as it may very well be a sincere/candid opinion of the OP. I can only leave that for the OP to comment on.


The OP said "updates" not "upgrades". The use of the word "some" is not correct regardless of what context you try to paint it in.


I stand by my remark, as I don't have a way to confirm what security updates Google bothers to release at all to "outdated" devices.


Of course there's a way to confirm what security updates Google releases. You just have to go to the Android Security Bulletin site [1]. You know this, but it would conflict with your agenda of spreading Google/Android FUD because of your perpetual grievances with Google surrounding the Google/Oracle trial.

[1]https://source.android.com/security/bulletin/


Where does it state which devices got which patch level?

Just because a fix is available today doesn't mean an old Nexus will get it.

As for agenda, as a consumer and developer, I want a device where I am able to use the same Java libraries as on a regular Java and get updates as on any of my computers without having to pay more than a month salary for such time limited privilege.


It kind of is Google's fault. Most people associate any version of Android with Google. Manufactures that don't update their phones causes harm to both the manufacture's image and Google image.

Personally, I place all the blame on Google for not making the upgrades possible from their side. It should be easy to upgrade the core operating system as easy as updating Windows, OSX, and Linux.


> It kind of is Google's fault. Most people associate any version of Android with Google. Manufactures that don't update their phones causes harm to both the manufacture's image and Google image.

This makes no sense. "People associate X with Y" is not the same as "Y is responsible for X". If I associate Android with Linux, is Linus now culpable for Android's security problems?

> Personally, I place all the blame on Google for not making the upgrades possible from their side. It should be easy to upgrade the core operating system as easy as updating Windows, OSX, and Linux.

If we were living in a fantasy land where you could wave a wand and things would happen instantly, this would be the case, but mobile devices are not desktops and the challenges they face are entirely different. Google has already been moving logic as much as possible into apps like Google Play Services (updateable without OS changes_, and the fact that they haven't moved everything should make all but the most technically illiterate think "There may be technical challenges involved", instead of your "They're not making this easy" approach.


In an open marketplace, "People associate X with Y" is very much the same as "Y is responsible for X." This explains a lot of the legacy code in pre-Windows Vista Windows; if new versions of the OS broke someone's favorite app, they blame Windows, even if the reason the app broke is it didn't adhere to (or even actively tried to circumvent) published API (Adobe was notorious for trying to squeeze a few extra cycles of performance out of Photoshop, for example, by hand-rolling their own C++ data structure instances by building a binary-compatible pattern in memory instead of calling the documented constructor in the WinAPI).


> "People associate X with Y" is not the same as "Y is responsible for X".

I understand that, but many of the non-tech savvy people I know do not understand that Google is not responsible for most versions of Android that run on their phones.

> ...but mobile devices are not desktops and the challenges they face are entirely different.

I do not see how they are much different. To many people, their phone is just as important as their desktop/laptop. I do not see anything stopping updates to Android being invisible to the end use as most other updates. iOS is pretty good about updating in a way that is unobtrusive to the user and Windows 10 is getting closer.


But Android is not considered a Linux distro by most stretches. It's Android's fault.

It should have been called a "platform", and, since Google has the ability to say so, they should have told each hardware maker to come up with an OS name "on Android". Tizen on Android. NexusOS on Android. So on.

OR, they should have gone Apple and said "you will have this OS, Android, and it will look as such, and it will be patched as such".


> This makes no sense. "People associate X with Y" is not the same as "Y is responsible for X". If I associate Android with Linux, is Linus now culpable for Android's security problems?

This is ridiculous. Linus in Android is a component, not a whole system, and phone vendor own SW are way too accessory in the ecosystem and add so little value in it that they don't render Android a mere component in the same way: the base Android is the system, whereas drivers and 3rd party GUI or other minor stuff are what should be sufficiently decoupled so that Android can be updated without vendor consent.

Doing otherwise has proven to expose users at risk, and given its situation Google is responsible, not a swarn of phone vendors.

I might not be saying that if Android was really open, but then Android might not have that market share. Well, in the end, even that reinforce the argument that Google is responsible...


I dunno. Enthusiasts may track the versions coming out of Google HQ. But for most updating is a hassle rather than something they look forward to. This because it means downtime for their device, and if the update fails it may leave them with a bricked device (chance is small, but it is still in the back of their mind).

For most people a computer, a phone, or a tablet is an appliance.


iOS updates are something that seems like many people look forward too. If Android updates were as unobtrusive as updates to iOS (even Windows 10 is getting closer to unobtrusive updating), then there wouldn't be much of an issue there.

We are getting closer to the point where being secure and up to date is almost painless. That should be our goal in the tech industry.


They are more painless if you happen to have a Pixel. It downloads and installs the update on another partition, prompts for a reboot and comes up a minute later. The trade-off, of course, is space.


Try telling that to anyone owning a Nexus 5 (still a very viable phone) or older.


Yes and no. Google could rework Android such that it would be easier for companies to apply their own UX without doing deep code changes.

Also, they could isolate the Java VM layer further such that it could be updated independently of the Linux kernel and related userland.


This excuse completely ignores the fact that through the MADA contract, Google controls all of the manufacturers and defines whether or not they are allowed to sell Android phones, effectively. And that the OS is designed, by Google, to require the manufacturer to distribute the update, rather than, as with... pretty much all other OSes, the software developer being responsible for updating their own software.

Google would like you to blame the manufacturer, but you need to realize the fact that you even can blame the manufacturer is a design flaw in the OS which Google designed.


Google does not control whether OEM's are allowed to sell Android phones. Does Google control the sale of all of those Chinese branded phones that don't ship with Google Play Services? Or how about the Blackphone or the Copperhead phone? The MADA simply states what is required if your phone wants to ship with Google Play Services and Apps.

>Google would like you to blame the manufacturer, but you need to realize the fact that you even can blame the manufacturer is a design flaw in the OS which Google designed.

This sentence makes so sense. Google cannot update an OS that they did not create. The OEM rolled the OS so only they can update it. How exactly does Google update an OS from an OEM they don't even have the source for? It's the OEM's responsibility and if that OEM doesn't do their job in updating their OS then maybe it's time to start looking for an OEM that does do their job.


There's a confusion here between the Android's clone of the GNU libraries (to escape the GPL3 license) which is open source, plus the linux kernel, also open source; and the NOT open source Google Android OS which is much more than this, including a Java engine and a helluva lot of other parts including but not limited to the app store. China's Android-ish phones use the replacement library functions Google built and the Linux kernel. The Chinese could go all GPL3 and ignore any Google/Android contribution at all if they cared to - they don't because they too want to get away from the GPL3 license (with it's software and hardware patent grab and anti-tivoization clause that forbids locking down the phone, even for security purposes.)


1. Note my use of the word "effectively". Unless you're in China, where Google does not operate, there is no such thing as Android without Google Play Services. (Attempts to sell Android devices without Google Play outside of China have, for the most part[1], been dismal failures.) And Google has to give their written approval for the release of each and every device or software update of Android with Google Play Services.

2. Google created the OS. In fact, OEMs are forbidden from forking Android, and therefore, cannot "roll their own OS" from Android, without violating their agreement with Google. Yes, they sprinkle some of their own apps and drivers in, but this is a design flaw in Android: Google needs to be updating their own software independently of manufacturer-specific components.

I know for a fact you and I have had this discussion before.

[1]Someone will mention the Kindle. The Kindle does not compete with Google products, as it is perceived in the market as an e-reader more than a "tablet". And Google barely even does tablets anymore anyways.


> Google created the OS. In fact, OEMs are forbidden from forking Android, and therefore, cannot "roll their own OS" from Android, without violating their agreement with Google. Yes, they sprinkle some of their own apps and drivers in, but this is a design flaw in Android: Google needs to be updating their own software independently of manufacturer-specific components.

Forbidden from forking Android? Every OEM version of Android is a fork. What Google does not allow is for an OEM to distribute a version of Android that does not pass the Android Compatibility Test Suite.

>therefore, cannot "roll their own OS" from Android

Do you know how OEM's "roll their own OS"? They take the AOSP source code that Google drops and then they add all of their source code and then build and distribute their own version of Android that only they can update.

>Yes, they sprinkle some of their own apps and drivers

I'm not sure you really understand all of the changes OEM's make to Android if all you think they do is "sprinkle some of their own apps and drivers in"

>this is a design flaw in Android: Google needs to be updating their own software independently of manufacturer-specific components.

No it's not. Google does not build Android for the OEM's. They create their own version of Android and therefore are ultimately responsible for updating it. Once again, Google cannot update an OS they did not build.

>Google barely even does tablets anymore anyways.

Android is still the marketshare leader in tablets.


> They take the AOSP source code that Google drops and then they add all of their source code and then build and distribute their own version of Android that only they can update.

Yep that's a insanely huge design flaw, coherent with: "Google needs to be updating their own software independently of manufacturer-specific components."


So an OEM being allowed to build their own OS is a huge design flaw?

Is Debian also responsible for Ubuntu's security flaws?


It isn't "their own OS". It's Google's OS, which is explicitly and directly controlled by Google's contracts, which you continue to pretend do not exist. It is a single platform, and it is by no means an open source one. If it was, it wouldn't require the explicit approval of a single corporate entry to distribute it or any updates to it.


Yes, it actually is. An OEM builds their own OS from source. Google does not own their OS. Also, why are you claiming that I'm pretending that the MADA contract does not exist? If an OEM wants Google Play Services and Apps then they must agree to the terms in the MADA. It appears you have an problem separating the Android OS the OEM builds and the Google Apps and Services that are given to them.


As I recall, Google tried a laxer approach early in Android's history, and the quality results were pretty disastrous.

Why do we fault the company for taking steps to pull Android as a brand together?


I actually really loved the choice and freedom we used to have and Android, and thought it was a valuable trade off for platform unity. Now we have a very homogenous platform that is still horribly insecure... The worst of both worlds.

Google uses their agreements with OEMs to force them to bundle apps and including Google's branding, and protect their business, but refuses to use those agreements to ensure even basic security for their users.


I don't think I follow. In what sense is Android horribly insecure? More interestingly: in what sense is it horribly insecure that it wouldn't be if we lived in a world where Google didn't have the market agreements to, say, force security patches for pieces of the Android OS core that were broken?

Because we already lived in that world, and it was less secure than the one we live in now, to my memory. Security issue in one of the Android libraries that are now part of Play Services? Good luck; wait for your OEM to update your OS.


Let me ask a (potentially) very stupid question here: What prevents doing the same on phones?

What would make a phone hardware able to install anything that compiles to its CPU architecture the same way a PC can?


Paraphrase the question in the reverse and you get your answer: What makes this possible on Windows desktops?

Stable binary driver ABI. Hardware monoculture. Expensive driver certification program. Letting hardware vendors release binary drivers without releasing the corresponding sources. An opt-out automatic update mechanism.

(Disclaimer: I work at Google, but not on the Android team.)


Hardware monoculture? Surely you must be joking. There are only a few to several dozen current Android phone models being sold at a given time. There are thousands upon thousands of PC models being sold among major manufacturers. This doesnt even begin to account for home builds or customizations. There is a very slim chamce that anyone has the exact same hardware config as my PC, yet Windows still has to work on it. Sure, vast majority of Windows is x86/x64, but that doesn't mean it is a hardware monoculture.


If you break those PC models open what's really different? The hardware interfaces of PC has almost always been stable since the age of IBM PC clones. It might not be a monoculture in terms of all the RGB lightings you can put on your machine, but you definitely don't need to worry about different protocols. All the while Android phones can have the weirdest SoC's on the planet in them.


I admittedly have zero experience with configuring HW with ARM.

However, to say that HW interfaces on the PC have been stable since the age of IBM PC clones is a joke. In the DOS days, users manually had to manually set IO memory addresses and IRQ levels. Early Windows sat on top of DOS, so still had to do it there. Plug'n'Play didn't show up until Windows 95, and even then it was hit and miss. Some devices worked, others required manual configuration. RTM Win95 didn't support USB, either. That took the equivalent of a service pack (although, IIRC, they went by a different name back then. I want to say OSR1 added USB 1.1 support). Windows drivers didn't really get friendlier until the push to the NT kernel & it's HAL. Win2k had limited, but good support. WinXP got better. Vista was a step backwards. Win7, 8 and 10 have incrementally improved on Vista. Even on Windows 10, though, I have updates that "forget" a subset of my USB controllers. Windows doesn't know about drivers for my HOTAS. Most recent windows updates cause it to forget about my secondary monitor. Half the time after an update, my USB keyboard doesn't work (I have to login on my desktop using an on-screen keyboard to correct settings). I'm probably one of the only (or a small handful) of people that have a Geforce 690 & 1080 in the same system. Sure, PC might be better in that most peripherals go over USB. But, not all USB devices work with a generic driver, and Windows often doesn't include non-generic drivers for all but the most popular devices.


Let's ignore the historical legacy non-PNP ISA config nightmare, because they do not bring anything of value in this discussion.

The core system of PC is highly compatible with OSes in pretty much all directions. (Well now even if I don't ignore the non-PNP ISA configurations stuffs, it does not really change the situation: those were not for core system stuffs)

Then you have drivers for various bus controllers and peripheral, some of which are crucial for using your PC in practice, but as soon as the necessary driver exists, loaded by the kernel way after the core boot, and highly abstracted on all modern OSes (it only access the HW through functions abstracted by the OS)

For non-ancient PC, you even have with ACPI some abstracted functions, provided by the HW, and used at the runtime by the OS. It's to be considered as part of the core plateform, as if it was a pure HW interface, given what we are discussing about. The NT HAL, btw, is a vestigial of early NT years, and is of zero interest for the purpose of PC compatibility today (there is only one HAL that is in use on modern PCs, and IIRC switching the HAL was not even enough when multiple were in use IIRC, other MS binaries still needed to be recompiled -- so the NT HAL is merely an internal detail that bring no consequence in backward or fw compat as far as decoupling of binaries and their update of a partial subset in a system is concerned)

Now the situation for ARM SoC for Android is NOT the same. You just don't boot a generic ARM Linux kernel to driver your random ARM SoC of your random phone. Because even what could constitute an equivalent core system as what exists for PC, follows no standard.


You still need all of these things. An x64 Intel Processor manufactured in 2017 still boots into real mode at startup exactly like the original did 30 years ago. Complete with segmented mode without memory protection, multitasking, or code privilege levels, just as AT/AT compatible as the day it was born.


Thanks for reminding me of Plug'N'Pray. Some stuff worked but a lot didn't, likely the cheap rubbish hardware I bought with lame drivers. And trying to load a mouse driver for DOS and play a game that needed himem. Or trying the set the right IRQ to get the DOS game to believe you had an Adlib or SB16 compatible card....

The kids today don't know how easy things are with unified drivers for audio on Mac OS etc. I mean, even USB coming out was amazing instead of serial devices and guessing the COM port? Which LPT1?? And dial up etc etc so easy now.


My understanding is the interface between hardware and kernel is more vendor-specific on ARM than it is on the PC. So the PC has lots of hardware diversity but the way you talk to a given device is already somewhat abstracted from the perspective of the kernel.


A major thing you have on PCs that you do not have on ARM is bus query.

With PCI and later the OS can ask each device on the bus to ID itself and thus figure out if it is a known device type or not (and if not, ask the admin to install drivers).

On ARM You have things sitting off various buses that expect the kernel to know what they are and how to talk to them from the word go.

It has gotten better as now there exist something known as a device tree that can be read by the kernel at boot. But not every SoC provide support.


Intel started work on Moblin back in the day because Microsoft balked at bringing Windows to a x86 platform without PCI device enumeration.

Heck, if you crack open the ARM based Windows RT tablets you will find quite the odd duck of an ARM SoC inside. One more reminiscent of a x86 PC than what you find in your average Android device.


I think you're overstating the value of most of those things, because it's also possible on Linux desktops too. You can take a typical off-the-shelf x86 laptop, pop a disk in, and install Linux on it.

IMO the key point out of the things you mentioned is the hardware monoculture, because that definitely does help people get Linux running (and keep it running) on new hardware. I'm skeptical about most of the others.


Your example actually helps prove the point: the fact that Linux can use some of these advantages but not others lines up pretty neatly with the fact that it's generally harder to get Linux running on a given system than it is Windows. I say this as someone whose used Linux and thinks that practically everyone could benefit from giving Linux a try as their primary personal computer (with the always-major caveat that you have to be careful about hardware purchases and/or have someone knowledgeable set it up).


Windows runs on many CPU architectures. Android phones are packed with binary blobs.


Windows is one giant binary blob. Also, Android runs on many CPU architectures as well.


So it's Linux fault and Fuchsia is the solution, right? :)


What is this "fuck sea" you're talking about and how do I sail in it?


It's Google's best shot so far at provoking "Android is dead" rumours: http://www.androidpolice.com/2017/02/15/speculation-around-g...

But the reason I brought it up is that Fuchsia OS will have a stable driver ABI.


I don't really understand it either.

I get Windows security updates on every damn computer I buy. Yes, the computer is pre-loaded with bloat, but I still get updates like everyone else.

Meanwhile, on Android, I mostly get nothing. What is so fundamentally different between PC and phone? Why is it so hard on mobile phones?


Does your OEM create their version of Windows? No, they ship the binaries they receive from Microsoft. As long as Android OEM's are allowed to build their own version of Android this problem will always be in the hands of the OEM.


Well they sort of do, by adding pre-installed bloat.

But it's still Windows.

I just wonder why that is. Maybe Microsoft has stricter licensing?


There's a pretty huge difference between modifying the os and its desktop environment compared to just adding a few extra bloated apps and some wallpapers...


There's a big difference between an OEM merging their source code with Google's AOSP source code and then compiling it to build an OS than just adding crapware to a Windows installation. OEM's can't modify the Windows source code and can only distribute the OS given to them.


"What would make a phone hardware able to install anything that compiles to its CPU architecture the same way a PC can?"

The reason your question is "stupid" is because you think your phone is just one computer.

In fact, you can do just what you describe - and it wouldn't be that difficult - but it would only be for the application processor and you would end up with a nice PDA.

In order to make phone calls you would also need to control the other two, fully functional, general purpose computers inside of your phone: the baseband processor and the SIM card.

Currently, there is no way for you to control either of those in any meaningful way.[1]

There are deeply entrenched economic and technical forces standing in the way of controlling your own baseband processor and we are nowhere near to doing it.

[1] Osmocom on 2G phones is not meaningful, no matter how impressive and interesting it is.


hey thanks I think you hit the point very well here. But then how about tablets for example?


The short answer is that phone hardware is all over the place .. x86/64 has actually made generic kernels (including Windows) possible by having a slew of very similar machines. You can't expect the same thing from ARM systems yet - each system has to be specially targeted.


There are Windows versions that work on ARM: phone/mobile, and Win10 IoT.

They update just fine, sometimes even on the major versions. E.g. my phone initially had windows phone 8.1 and now it’s windows mobile 10. And despite the phone is 3 years old, I'm still regularly getting OS updates.

That’s why I don’t believe ARM hardware is responsible.


Not sure about ARM/Windows vs ARM/Android, but I do know that unlike the PC, Android ARM phones at least do not have things like a standardized BIOS, standardized peripheral bus enumeration, low-level firmware to hardware interface etc, or at least not to the same level..

This is why things like SBSA (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Server_Base_System_Architectur...) were needed before ARM servers could even be talked about, and why things like Rasberry PI's are not directly compatible with BeagleBones, etc, at least for the low-level stuff..

Nothing to do with ARM itself; just lack of ARM standards.

This was similar in the early PC days and had similar headaches - compare the various CP/M machines with what became the 'standard' MS-DOS/IBM-PC 'platform'..


PCs do not have a standardized BIOS. BIOS configuration options vary widely, and often mean different things between different BIOS vendors. UEFI is standardized but sometimes difficult to adopt.


It is half-responsible, but MS did the necessary thing to achieve their capability to independently update the OS (and deliver it as binaries, instead of letting phone vendors built it from source, which MS do not want to distribute to anybody): they specified a common plateforme for ARM phones, that is, IIRC, basically ARM + ACPI.

Then they mandated secure boot with keys that cannot be controlled by the user, so that other systems can not leverage the platform on W10M hw :p . (That's in the spirit of what BG wanted for ACPI: something somehow incompatible with other OSes -- MS eventually managed to do this with a sidestep, but well, this did not really help their market share :P )


Pretty much. MS even balked at supporting mobile ATOM back in the day, because Intel had stripped out PCI support to reduce power requirements.

The The PocketPC and Windows Mobile situation was not much different from the Android situation today, i believe.


No, they're all similar enough. Only things forcing the upgrades are...

- Android breaks compat with old drivers every update - HW makers only ship (often vulnerable) binary blobs.


and you also have other things such as other pieces of hardware the the os needs to talk to. this might not be part of what "android is", in it's barebones, so you can't just hope to build an updated version of the os and that's it. a lot of vendors customise their android builds, which means that they need to be the ones pushing updates. i'm not siding with google, but that's the way it is. could they have done a better job in assuring continued security updates? yes, but they were far too focused on trying to spread android everywhere they could.


Qualcomm distributes firmware blobs. Once the blob is out of date you cannot use it on a newer version of Android.

(And device manufacturers do this too, but it's a ton easier to, say, fix flash with a shim than it is to fix networking.)


Pardon my ignorance, but... doesn't Android run on top of the firmware? You're saying newer versions of Android are breaking backward compatibility with older firmware?


As Android evolves, you need to update drivers to keep in step with new features (pretty much the same as with Windows - you need new drivers for newer Windows usually). But as opposed to Windows, Linux kernel doesn't really have a very stable driver API and the manufacturers love to patch and mess with the kernel itself to get their hardware working. As such, porting closed-source drivers to newer Android OSes is usually impossible without support from the manufacturers.

Qualcomm (by far the most popular hardware vendor for Android devices) doesn't care about supporting their released hardware.


Its a bit more complicated than that.

Quite often these days when a part is initialized, the driver uploads firmware as part of that.

If you look at most Linux distros they have a package of firmwares that various companies have allowed to be distributed with the kernel.

Meaning there is a small part of the Qualcomm blob that needs to interface with the kernel to upload the firmware.

And the interface changes as the kernel changes. This because Linux devs don't want the hassle of trying to debug a kernel panic only to find that it is happening inside a third party blob, and thus they can't fix it. Instead they want companies to either work with them to maintain drivers or hand them the information needed to maintain a open driver within the kernel source.


We can thank our lucky stars by design or accident of history the PC remains the only true open platform for end users.

Linux and its wide adoption, the ability of users to pick and choose hardware and software would simply not have been possible if Microsoft and Intel took the Google-ARM model to 'openness'.

Google and ARM pay lip sync to open source but users are locked tightly to their devices and OS. Users cannot even install updates let alone things like Linux which Android is based on.

The drivers work perfectly on Android yet users trying to install Linux on ARM socs cannot use these drivers? Open source developers struggle for years with ARM and Google with no results. How exactly did this come to pass without by design? There can always be myriad 'reasons' and excuses but the fact is ARM completely controls the hardware and Google completely controls the software and it's their design and decisions that drives net negative results for users and open source.


>The difference being that you can install or upgrade Windows on a system without buying a new laptop or requiring support from the vendor; the vendor doesn't lock down laptops to prevent upgrades and force people to buy a new device instead.

As a poweruser, I have installed new versions of Windows AND new versions of Android.

To the average user, neither is feasible.

To a technical user, both are possible.

I don't like this comparison. Many of us switch out AndroidOS's very frequently. It's actually not hard at all to install a custom recovery and load a different and custom version of android.

In fact, considering how defined the android ecosystem of alternative OS's is, and how undefined the Microsoft one is, one could easily suggest that Android is far less locked down.

After all, some Android replacements like Cyanogen/Lineage are far more developed and popular than Windows replacements.


I think there is a shocking difference here. Windows install is, for all compatible devices:

1. Insert install disc/USB. 2. Boot to install disc. 3. Spam the next button.

Installing new Android OS versions manually often involves custom third party unlock tools from sketchy download sites.


And yet, if you ask a non-technical user to install a new OS, it's entirely likely they'll refuse, be uncomfortable with the implications of what they're doing, and if you do force them to do it, will be frustrated with the result.

I worked in a Computer Repair shop for years through college and believe me, the average user has ZERO interest in installing or re-installing an OS. They will pay >$100 to have someone "spam next a few times" as you put it.

I would call that a distinction without a difference. End result is the same: non-technical users do not do it.


On the other hand, semi-technical users would probably do a windows reinstall if they knew they had a techie friend handy to call, but probably would not run an bootloader crack that has the potential to brick their phone, and instead would ask the same techie friend to do it for them.


The point is that many technical users do not install custom versions of Android, though. We all agree on non technical users, but changing Android version is still more complex, to the point that many people comfortable with upgrading a desktop will not mess with their phone


This is true. And I suspect, a major reason behind Microsoft's much-derided upgrade process for Windows 10.


There's a subset of handsets that have a locked bootloader, which means they cannot even flash the device themselves.


> The difference being that you can install or upgrade Windows on a system without buying a new laptop or requiring support from the vendor

You are looking at the past with rose-tinted glasses, or you got very lucky with drivers. New drivers were required for every new Windows version from Win 2000 to Windows 7,even for the display (or if you are unlucky, Ethernet). The only way to get those drivers was via support from the vendor. I distinctly recall trawling dodgy 4th party driver aggregation websites, downloading and burning them to CDs in internet cafes multiple times.


Just to play devil's advocate: Windows became the dominant platform when it had terrible security. Android became the dominant platform when it had terrible security. Maybe people don't care that much about security vs other features. At it's low point, Windows security was a lot worse than Android security. At one point, a fresh Windows XP machine plugged into the Internet would be compromised within a couple of minutes max.


I don't really understand this metric at all. I've heard it colloquially, but I highly doubt anyone was scanning IP address ranges so often that you could be passively attacked on the internet without any interaction by two minutes in. Even more so, people are often behind NAT, which acts as a good firewall on its own.

Maybe it's related to browsing habits? IE? I mean, you aren't going to get hit by a drive-by attack on any major websites -- even in the heyday of malicious advertisements.

So, what I'm really asking is: where did this metric come from, and why does it get spread so often?


> I've heard it colloquially, but I highly doubt anyone was scanning IP address ranges so often that you could be passively attacked on the internet without any interaction by two minutes in.

I witnessed this myself back in the day. I was probably about 14 at the time, had just freshly reinstalled a machine, installed AV (from a CD, hah.) and connected it to the internet for the first time via PPPoE DSL. Within minutes I had AV popups from having been hit by Blaster before I could even update Windows. In that day, few people had routers or WiFi, many, my family included just had a single machine connected to a modem directly and so had no NAT.

It was never individual attackers - it was worms running on other systems that had reached critical mass and were just hitting random IPs on the internet with the exploit in an attempt to infect more systems.

You're extremely unlikely to see something this bad with a modern OS - most of the time you're behind a NAT, provided by your router or your mobile provider which effectively blocks inbound connections. There's also exploit mitigations like NX and ASLR which are pretty much how the Stagefright bug didn't turn into a nice new MMS worm - it just sounded scary, but over a year later we've not seen any major attacks from it.

If you plug directly into the internet or DMZ your machine, you'll still see this type of stuff. I've heard it called "internet background radiation" - old worms out scanning for possible targets to this day.


It may sound crazy, but I did suffer from it myself. My Windows XP installation was guaranteed to be infected by the worm, because like you said, without any interaction (I didn't even open up the browser, to make sure I was not crazy), the Blaster worm was often sent from somewhere in the Internet during the installation procedure. Even if it wasn't, there was not enough time for me to run Windows Update before my computer being infected, because the infamous "your computer should restart now" message always displayed several minutes after the installation was done. So back in the days, I always made sure to turn off the DMZ before reinstalling Windows XP.

You could check how frequent the attacks were by yourself. I was using a custom firewall software, called ZoneAlarm, to see how many attacks I was receiving in a day. The log said literally every few minutes, the infectious Blaster worm packet was received. It was like how frequent your SSH server is attacked with random passwords - you can see this from the SSH server log too.


> So back in the days, I always made sure to turn off the DMZ before reinstalling Windows XP.

Why did you turn it on in the first place?


Some people are too lazy to individually forward ports (I am guilty of this in the past myself)


Dial up and early high speed internet both gave you a public IP address. The expectation you will have multiple internet devices is more recent behind a nat is more recent. And yes I dealt with an XP box that would get compromised before you could download the update.

Windows even included a utility to let people use it as a router on home networks to "share internet connections". https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/310563/description-...


They still give you public IPs no? I get that at least on my fiber connection. It's even permanent.


The router has 1 public IP, but your PC/iPad etc are all behind NAT.


Ah you cute youngling.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaster_(computer_worm)

At the peek couple of months your computer would BSOD _during_ installation process, right after initializing network interface and RPC service.


There are others posting here but dropped in to also confirm that I firsthand witnessed this.

I had a single device and had to do a fresh install from factory settings. This meant I had about 30 mins before my 500kbps connection would grind to a crippling halt from all the accumulated malware.

This meant I had to incrementally procure protection, save it, then fresh install and repeat until I could access the Internet safely.

I don't miss those days.


I remember when this was happening: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blaster_(computer_worm)


It may sound crazy, but I've heard of honey pots getting attacked in minutes many times.

Two minutes is probably too short, but an hour? Maybe not.


Same thing applies today. Just fire up a DO instance and tail -f access.log

You will see random scanning attempts within minutes. Same principle , minus the effectiveness.


On my custom blog running on ASP.Net/Azure, I constantly see people trying to hammer WordPress admin urls.


I worked at Microsoft as a contractor for a year during the Windows XP Service Pack 2 days. Blaster was so bad that even bringing up a new machine at Microsoft, you had to install patches from a CD that was passed around our team. If you installed Windows while connected to the corporate network, you would see errors start to happen a few seconds after the network interface came online.


I also had this happen 'live', one of the major problems as I recall was that Windows XP (and earlier) had the bad habit of enabling a ton of internet facing services by default, and these services contained lots of vulnerabilities so you didn't even have to manually 'go online' using a browser or some such in order to be infected.


> people are often behind NAT

Today, yes. But back in those days? I'm not so sure. IIRC, almost everyone had a public IP.


Because it was real? It was infected computers scanning, not people. Once infected you joined the group scanning random ips and it grew like you would expect it to.

At the peak it got so bad that IPSs were blocking affected ports on all consumer connections just to save bandwidth.


This happened to me. I left a new XP pluggged in, behind a nat, and first thing in the morning I had a virus.


People in this thread don't remember the NET SEND spam from Windows Messenger. (Which was a system service and had absolutely nothing to do with MSN Messenger)

You could basically do "NET SEND 12.34.56.78 my spam message" and it would appear on the screen of your victim.

http://blogopod.com/image/2008/net-send-spam-big.gif


Actually I liked that feature. We used to chat with each other using it when I was in school. It was definitely a right choice for Microsoft to disable the Messenger service, but I was a bit sad when it actually happened.


You can still do that using msg.exe


Seems to me that Android had better security from the outset than (consumer) Windows had. It was not until XP that most home computers even had a notion of multiple users in any real sense, thanks to the NT core.

And i don't think the problem is so much that people do not value security, but that they approach a computer like it is an appliance. Meaning that they do not internalize that it can do things without them being physically present and setting things in motion (i find it unnerving that Windows 10 can apparently bring a laptop out of shutdown to do updates in the middle of the night, thanks to programmable timers embedded in the BIOS/UEFI).

I really wish that a modern PC got more "blinkenlights" not less (i hate helping my mom with her laptop, as the damn thing do not even have a HDD activity light).


> i find it unnerving that Windows 10 can apparently bring a laptop out of shutdown to do updates in the middle of the night

Heh, I remember when Apple used that as a feature. Instead of updates, it downloaded your email and other things you'd want to have already available when you open your laptop.


Power Nap works when your Mac is put to sleep. I don't think it would turn on your Mac if you powered it off.

Also, macOS does not force a system update schedule on you, unlike Windows 10 Home.


What I don't like about macOS is that you cannot postpone the update, well not for more than a day. So next day the same popup, even if it's a non essential update to Pages or iTunes. Yes I can click them away, but that's not the point.


> the damn thing do not even have a HDD activity light

My work laptop and one or two of my private machines have no HDD light, either. It drives me crazy.

For Windows, there is a tool called HD Activity Indicator. It only works after logging in, obviously, but still better than nothing.


> Seems to me that Android had better security from the outset than (consumer) Windows had.

It does, but it's also operating in a much more hostile environment. At least windows had regular updates though, that's not the case for most android phones.


What? I personally had many viruses and malware on Windows and never personally had a single one on Android.


I think this is part of the problem. I see a lot of hate thrown at Windows 10 for the automatic shutdown to install updates - and some of that is due to bad design choices by MS - but many seem to hate the idea of updates being automatically installed at all. They say they'd prefer to be insecure rather than be inconvenienced.


Chrome browser seems to do a good job with that issue. Automatic updates but so low key that you don't notice most of the time.


I remember routinely wiping and reinstalling windows 98 and XP back when my folks were on dial-up. Browser security in those days was an almost unimaginable joke.


Android's fragmentation and shitty vendor blobs are nothing new. What's more disappointing is that Google, despite all its might, didn't do anything significantly different for its own phones. The cost of owning a google phone used to be ~$100 a year given the price of Nexus used to be around the ~$300 mark and a 3 year support cycle. With Pixel, that cost has become more than 2x for the same support cycle. If google with its current stake can't strong arm Qualcomm and other h/w vendors, I doubt if it'll ever happen. Microkernels may make it better, but that's just shifting the perception. What's really needed is more competition in the h/w space.


I don't see how microkernels have anything to do with all of that? Userspace drivers exists in all systems and arguably they are not more backward compatible or anything than kernel-space drivers, just the incompatibilities appears against other system-frameworks in other address spaces, instead of the (micro)-kernel. Ex: when windows switched to 64-bits, 32-bits userspace printer drivers where incompatible (it could and IMO it should have been done otherwise, but what happen is that they were broken!)

And more competition in the h/w space? Common, you already have an insane amount of competition for Android phones, and even some of the biggest multinational don't give a shit about maintaining SW for their product beyond a few months, even for security purposes. The only think we can do is prescription to every people we know: ex. tell all your non technical friends to never buy e.g. a Samsung phone.

It's ridiculous, because Android is the worse ecosystem for security purposes. If you want to be somehow protected, you can stick to iPhones, or, in a funny way, Windows 10 Mobile.


>And more competition in the h/w space? Common, you already have an insane amount of competition for Android phones

That competition is only on the surface. For SoC, GPU, baseband, radios etc., you are stuck with Qualcomm. Or maybe Samsung's exynos, which isn't necessarily better.


Not sure how exaggerated this is, but even then, those vendor can very well have the bad idea to don't give a shit about compat between one chip and its next version. Given where there go and the associated ecosystem, I suspect they do exactly that...

And then on PC too, you pretty much only have competition on the surface; then it's Intel and AMD. Given how modern CPU are SOC (and chipsets are now paired with CPUs, and with no 3rd party licence anymore), you have almost all of what matter in your system (for system compat) there...


The sad part is that these are issues with Android that Linux already solved.

Google uses Linux within Android but instead of allowing the underlying parts to be updated via package management-like functionality, the kernel level stuff is only distributable as images in one "big bang" go.

You could have a bug in a single binary at the kernel level, but instead of a tiny 1Kb diff patch you wait a year for a giant 1.2 GB vendor update that also contains a lot of other changes you have no interest in.


Part of the problem is that Linux has no driver API like Windows. The result is each vendor maintains their own fork of the Kernel with their crappy drivers shoehorned in. On the next Kernel version, they have to uplift all of their garbage to it.


The problem kind of exist but the comparison is mostly bullshit -- or at least was until recently. Windows regularly breaks driver compat, even more so on Windows phone.

Only with Windows 10 Mobile they engineered a strong way to upgrade the OS without needing vendor intervention too much (or at all?), it is a shame Windows Mobile market share as fallen so low and Windows Mobile is not even a priority of MS anymore :/

On Linux side, some (most?) phone vendors are most of the time not supposed to distribute the kernel and their binary-only driver the way they do it, because most of those distributions are likely GPL violations. The sad thing is some high profile organisations (Linux Fondation comes to mind) don't give a fuck about licence compliance, which is insane given the technical side NEEDS licence compliance in order for the end result to work well and not be dangerous for end-users for a large part of the ecosystem. (Worse, the Linux Fondation happily accept obvious GPL infringers at the highest levels.)

Anyway the kernel part is a small part in an Android distribution, and I'm not sure anything is available to handle the security update problem, or that somebody is even working on it... The technical update model MS has chosen is the way to go and Google is endangering us all by having such a huge market share and not wanting to take any responsibility that should come with it. (It's even worse given how Android has reached this market share levels, using practices that would make look past MS ones as respectful of competition!)


> Part of the problem is that Linux has no driver API like Windows. The result is each vendor maintains their own fork of the Kernel with their crappy drivers shoehorned in.

Linux has a driver API; the interfaces are not as stable as windows but they are there - the vendor shoehornning has more to do with closed hardware blobs, drivers not being developed in the open, and profits than a few struct member tweaks here and there shifting across android releases..

the handset manufacturers have no profit incentive to ensure that the phones are compatible for a longer term, and keeping the hardware drivers closed/behind version-specific blobs serves as convenient way to facilitate planned obsolescence

plenty of windows hardware doesn't get new drivers across OS release boundaries for the same reasons so slightly better API stability is not really a very good argument here on its own..


To the best of my understanding, Linux has the ability to add and remove drivers to the system. Android should have a package manager for these drivers to allow for updates in the same manor.


Well, if you have control over which patches you accept, you've created an exponential explosion in the testing state space. That may be even worse for security, never mind reliability.


Still, somehow Linux distros are reasonably safe but Android is broken.


Not sure about the linux distro being safe part. Linux desktop distros are also riddled with vulnerabilities that no one bothered to look. This is along with the bad design of the desktop in the first place as there're no isolation between apps and so forth.

Example: https://arstechnica.com/security/2016/12/fedora-and-ubuntu-0...

Android on the other hand, has isolation mechanism built in as the central thesis of its apps system. Additionally, it also has some additional layers on top.

Unfortunately since nothing gets updated it maybe all moot, but I don't think somehow Linux distros are more secure.


Well, GNU/Linux distro are usually patched. Main ones for pretty much all known vulns. Tons of Android systems are not patched. I don't think any of those is secure against anybody motivated enough (and I'm not even thinking about a 3-letter agency, but any hacker competent enough!)

Arguably the security model of main desktop OSes is bad enough so that they are also easy to penetrate. That should not make us dismiss the problem of the way too many unmaintained Android systems!


The Dalvik system that runs on top does indeed put apps into their own named processes with restricted access etc, quite a good idea imho!

But the entire system as a whole doesn't get updates to lower parts. E.g. Updating your java app doesn't solve the problems in the underlying C libraries the system uses. We're at the mercy of vendors for that, if ever.


That's a library vulnerability, nothing to do with bad design of the desktop.


> but instead of a tiny 1Kb diff patch

Wouldn't this require phones to compile their own kernels?


>You could have a bug in a single binary at the kernel level, but instead of a tiny 1Kb diff patch you wait a year for a giant 1.2 GB vendor update that also contains a lot of other changes you have no interest in.

Security patches are not 1+ GB in size - no where close to it. You're referring to OS updates that completely replace the old OS.


So there are security patches in Android? So the problem seems to be: some vendors seem not interested in distributing them... :/


Google distributes patches each month to OEM's 1 month before they're released. Some OEM's merge them into their code base and create a patch while others don't really care.


Does android have a patch mechanism OEM's can use to distribute the patches or do they have to distribute a whole new image?


"Google Security Team, here's your call to stop pontificating on the Project Zero blog and throwing cheap muck at Microsoft. You've got an even bigger and more complicated mess to clean up, you dug the hole yourself, it's going to take you longer, and you should have started on it years ago"

Is Linus Torvalds criticized as strongly as this, when many of the hundreds of Linux distro maintainers fail to ship kernel security patches speedily? No? Google puts a lot of effort into securing Android and patching vulns quickly, but ultimately it is the fault of the MANUFACTURERS and OPERATORS for failing to update their commercial works derived from Android OS.


Except mobile OS never suffered even 10% of the problems Windows had.

You don't have 1000 toolbar crippling your mama's android browser.

I never had to reformat my mobile to "make a clean" install, and certainly not every 6 month like I used to do with windows.

We never had any large scale infection on Android like confiker.

Reports of anything bad, virus, worms, rootkits... happening on Android are incredibly rare and never happened with my relatives.

Clearly we can't hold Google to the same standard as MS, because they are not even on the same level.


Not sure you consider this equivalent, but the Project Zero team has opened a number of issues against Android and phones that run android[0].

I'm wondering what blog posts on the Project Zero blog you consider to be "cheap muck"? There are a lot of posts on the Project Zero blog about Android as well.

[0] https://bugs.chromium.org/p/project-zero/issues/list?can=1&q...


The gist is that Google wanted to grow Android into something other than a niche player, and made a deal with the devils: hardware vendors. In effect, hardware vendors said they wanted to take a dump on their customers just like they always have, with bloatware baked in and planned obsolescence and Google said OK. And they don't control the hardware.

On the manufacturing side, a huge team is assembled with piles of money and resources to design and build a complete product out of hardware, firmware (blobs), and software, test it, document it, and then hand it off to marketing. That entire team is disbanded into a pool from which a whole new team will be created for a whole new product. Maybe less than a dozen people remain on a product team following release, and that's just to cover major bugs found once it's in the field. After about 6 months, it might be a team of two people. If it's a small market product, it might be a team of handful that cover multiple similar products.

Anyway, after 18-24 months there's essentially no one around from the manufacturer to support the product. It's not at all the same business model as say, Apple, where it's a giant team supporting a dozen handsets post-release, with coordinated roll outs for bug fixes.

If you want a newer OS on the Android phone, it's a do it yourself proposition. Lineage OS. Hopefully your phone has a relatively easy to unlock bootloader. And while Lineage OS will have a much newer kernel than the stock OS, the code to support, e.g. the NFC, may not be upstream because it's got some patent encumbered code, or maybe something new in the kernel breaks some driver and no one is around who knows enough about it to get it fixed. The exact sequence to put components into low power state, if not correct can cause battery life to suck. There are all sorts of ways this can not work out well, but at least it's an option.

What Google has done since Android 5 is emphasize library stability and security through Google Play updates. New features and bug fixes happen via Google Play itself being updated; it appears to be just an app update but it's actually what the bulk of 3rd party apps use. The low level stuff including the kernel isn't user space, and while your handset gets stuck for life, in effect, with an old kernel, Google are pushing out a chunk of bug and security fixes this way.


> the code to support, e.g. the NFC

On Google devices starting with the Nexus 5X/6P, there's a separate /vendor partition for blobs, and Google publishes monthly updates for that. I'm not sure if other vendors do this…


If we are comparing 2017 android with 2001 Windows we also need to compare the exploits. During times of 2001 windows we saw things like worms that permanent destroyed hardware (or forced owners to replace them), worms that shutdown whole city networks, computers that got infected in less than a second when connecting to the Internet, and botnets that were bigger than the biggest super computers of the time. The harm were big and scary on a global scale, and specific malware were often calculated to cause billions in damages. On the "lower" end there were bank account hijackings and credit card theft.

What are the worst 2017 android malware doing to the world?


Let's see...

Taking over a machine thanks to autorun.inf, crashing machines with ping, unsecured shared folders, worms spreading everywhere, rendering fonts on kernel code, and a long list of other stupid defects... No. Android has never included this level of idiocy therefore it is not fair to hold it to the same standard.

Installing Windows was once the same as installing a rootkit in your computer. Android might have issues but never as bad as Windows. Windows holds all the incompetency records.

Then, "the operating system released 16 years ago" (Windows XP) is the 3rd most used operating system. It is still causing problems today.


> I guess this means we can officially stop hating on Microsoft for having such a lax attitude towards security, considering their last OS to suffer from that attitude was released 16 years ago

What? That is complete nonsense. Yes Windows security has improved over time but it's still pretty abysmal compared to macOS, iOS, Android and any mainstream Linux distro. Windows still defaults to your main user being an administrator with administrator privileges at all times.

Not to mention the fact that Windows now comes baked in with malware and not only defaults you into turning it on without giving you the option to turn it all off easily during setup, but the major patches that have come out since will re-enable a lot of Microsoft's tracking code and make you jump through hoops to disable it.


> perhaps now is the time for us to begin holding Google to the same standard we applied to Microsoft a decade ago.

The triggering factor for this was the worms though. No such similar thing exists in the Android space.


Stagefright is trivially weaponizable as an MMS worm, in fact it may already have happened


So... where is it?

There clearly hasn't been any major deployment of this - especially at the scale of Blaster or Conficker.

It's "trivial" perhaps for a single device but every device is different and it'd require its own exploit code, exploit mitigation features cause it to be difficult to actually exploit too - making it quite problematic to deploy in practice.


Are we really so moronic that we need to wait for something to explode before we're ready to acknowledge the fire hazard that caused the explosion in the first place?


If it were so trivial it probably would have already happened. There's tons of cash to be made in SMS and MMS spam.

It's not trivial - there's a lot of devices and exploiting mitigation techniques to deal with, there's not even a reliable PoC that works on real-world devices with ASLR enabled.

These exploit mitigation techniques and differences in builds have basically saved it from becoming the disaster it sounds like at first glance.

I guess to answer your question, yes, yes we are that moronic. Not many people will care unless it's proven rapidly and readily exploitable.


You just stated that Stagefright was "trivially weaponizable". So why don't you answer their question and provide proof? Surely a "trivially weaponizable" exploit on over 1.4 billion devices would be a very attractive target to nefarious organizations and hackers.

It's been about 2 years since Stagefright was disclosed. Are we still waiting for it to explode? And if so, can you give a timeline for when this explosion will occur?


>Stagefright is trivially weaponizable as an MMS worm, in fact it may already have happened

No it's not. Where are all of the Stagefright exploits? This was supposed to be Android's security armageddon according to the scaremongering bloggers. And yet nothing happened. According to Google's telemetry of over 1.4 billion phones there has not been 1 case of a Stagefright exploit in the wild. So your assumption that Stagefright is "trivially weaponizable" is inconsistent with your knowledge of Android security and mitigations.


Sending an MMS is very expensive and many people don't even bother to configure their mobiles to send them because they've never used them.


Interesting perspective. Where is this coming from, geographically? It doesn't match my experience here in North America.


Yeah I recently learned from a Candadian friend that people in the US and Canada still text a lot? Outside of the US & Canada my estimate would be that 99% of people has switched to WeChat, Whatsapp and FB Messenger.

The only texts I ever recieve nowadays are automated (2FA etc...). Even though unlimited texts come with every SIM.


I am a rarity here in the U.K. as I still text, having got fed up of constantly switching IM apps. I mean, I remember when MSN Messenger was all the rage. Then Yahoo, ICQ, GTalk, Hangouts, various Jabber protocols, FaceAche, errr I mean FaceTime and Messenger, WhatsApp etc etc ad nauseum, Skype

SMS has remained the great constant throughout all these games. Turns out people don't get in touch if you don't use WhatsApp but shows how much they care eh!


Spain.


If your GSM network is anything like Greece's (and I don't doubt it is, grey market devices from Spain sold here work without issue), Android automatically sets up the network settings for MMS and wireless networking. You don't have to do anything.


Is that really google's problem, though? Why do you think they have a responsibility to ensure their OEM clients update regularly? It doesn't reflect poorly on them; it reflects poorly on samsung, sony, etc etc, who fill their phones with crap ware and are slow with patches and upgrades.


>Google Security Team, here's your call to stop pontificating on the Project Zero blog and throwing cheap muck at Microsoft.

Yes, because it's better to let hackers continue to exploit Windows than inform users and MS that their OS is at risk.

>You've got an even bigger and more complicated mess to clean up, you dug the hole yourself, it's going to take you longer, and you should have started on it years ago.

Security patches are given to OEM's 1 month before they are publicly released. Google patches their devices promptly. Unless I'm mistaken, I'm not aware of technology that allows Google to take an OEM's source code, apply patches, build it, sign it and then release it to all of the OEM's customers.


Google doesn't have 1 security team. Project Zero has nothing to do with Android whatsoever. Totally different parts of the business.


But they surely have an Android Security one, which tends to ignore the issue with updates on their reports.

https://android-developers.googleblog.com/2017/03/android-se...

Apparently now all OEMs are playing nice with updates and everyone that bought a phone in 2016 got their updates.


Sure, perhaps you could make a case for calling out the Android security team. GP didn't do that though, he called out Project Zero for not leaving Microsoft alone and instead fixing Android. I'm just saying, that isn't how things work.


Then I wonder what team the CSO heads up


And here I am on the Nokia 930 windows phone running Windows 10, and still expecting more updates :)


You sound like someone that either works at Microsoft or has a large financial interest in them.


I think he sounds like every person with security awareness who ever looked at the Android situation in the field.




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