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Google's Lollipop new release is more secure, but still not good enough

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October 26, 2015

It appears that Google's new Lollipop 5.0 release is more secure, but still not secure enough.

At least that's the verdict of security researchers who checked out the model that Google's applied to its Android OS since the Lollipop 5.0 release.

In an Arxiv paper, Elena Reshetova and her collaborators from Finland's Aalto University (with support from Intel) look over the post-Lollipop era, in which they note “every process must be run inside a confined SEAndroid domain with a proper set of access control rules defined”.

The issue is that while the structure and its policy framework would work well if they were followed, OEMs have room to make implementation mistakes.

“Overall, OEM modifications can render policies less strict, resulting in a wider attack surface for potential security vulnerabilities”, the researchers write.

The security errors arise because OEMs simply aren't coping with turning the product around quickly enough to compete, while trying to make sure their implementations comply with the SEAndroid security policy.

Such issues include:

  • The overuse of default profiles. This can mean OEM Android versions can point to sensitive resources from untrusted domains;

  • The overuse of predefined domains. Instead of defining separate domains for each of their apps, OEMs tend to put them in the system_app or platform_app domains, leading to an accumulation of too many apps sharing the same allow rules;

  • Forgotten rules. Security rules that are either auto-generated or relate to deprecated drivers, hanging around creating vulnerabilities;

  • Dangerous rules. Essentially insecurity-by-convenience. Rather than go back and make wholesale changes to the code-base, OEMs ship products with inadequate security policies.
  • The research group has put together an open-source tool named SEAL, which provides policy analysis, policy visualization, and policy decompilation.

    In other mobile news

    Sprint said that it won't take part in the 600 MHz wireless spectrum auction in the U.S. scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.

    The news did come as a bit of a surprise to some.

    In a press statement, CEO Marcelo Claure said-- “Sprint has all the wireless spectrum it needs to deploy its network architecture of the future.”

    Instead of beefing up its airwave portfolio, Sprint says it will focus on improving wireless services on the spectrum it already owns.

    Sprint says it will build extra cell tower sites and aggregate its bandwidth to achieve that goal.

    Some of Sprint’s critics have also suggested that the U.S.’ fourth largest mobile carrier doesn’t have the money to take part in the spectrum auction, and there could be some truth to that.

    But it's more than ten years since the company last took part in a spectrum auction, so its spectrum inventory could be depleted by 2017 some critics say.

    The FCC plans to hold a wireless spectrum auction in March 2016. The goal is to acquire frequencies in the 600 MHz band from TV broadcasters currently using the spectrum in the United States, then sell it to mobile carriers.

    Naturally, the two largest in line would be AT&T and Verizon. A competitive auction is essential for the U.S. government because without some bidding, the auction might not raise enough cash to persuade U.S. broadcasters to part with their valuable spectrum.

    For now, there doesn’t appear to be any threat to this plan, as the other three major operators appear unlikely to drop out at this stage.

    Overall, 600 MHz wireless spectrum is considered 'prime real estate' by most mobile phone companies, simply because it is a lower frequency than the airwaves currently used for cellular communications.

    Lower frequency signals travel further and do a better job of penetrating buildings and passing minor obstacles than higher frequencies do.

    Furthermore, lower frequency spectrum is especially useful and very cost effective for servicing customers in less densely populated areas, as carriers can build cell towers further apart.

    Sprint has extensive spectrum holdings, but most of it is at higher frequencies, therefore not as desirable than what U.S. broadcasters have.

    In other mobile news

    A huge drop in the overall demand for Samsung’s newest Galaxy smartphones triggered a 5th straight monthly decline for the phone maker, wiping out about $44 billion in market value on its stock since April of this year.

    By any measure, this is a substantial drop, even for an Asian company the size of Samsung.

    Samsung dropped by almost $12 billion in its valuation in August alone as the South Korean company surrendered a large share of its market to Apple and various Chinese rivals that offer a lower price point.

    And Samsung’s corporate decision to advance the release of its new Galaxy smartphones failed to dispel pessimism about its second-half earnings.

    Apple is largely expected to take the wraps off its new iPhone on Sep. 9 and release it in time for the crucial end-of-year holiday shopping season.

    “We all know Samsung's smartphone business isn’t doing well,” said Lee Seung Woo, an analyst at IBK Securities in Seoul. “This is no secret to anybody,” he added.

    Samsung’s global smartphone market share fell more than 3 percentage points in the second quarter, and it no longer is the top seller in China, the world’s biggest mobile-phone market.

    It is being undercut at the high end by Apple’s larger iPhones and at the mid-range and low end of the market by devices from Xiaomi, Lenovo and Huawei.

    It looks like Samsung totally misread the overall demand for its S6 models released in April, failing to produce enough three-sided screens for the Edge while the regular version struggled against the iPhone.

    One of its latest models, the Galaxy Note 5, was criticized by reviewers and mobile users this month after the company acknowledged that the device can break if the stylus is inserted backwards into the storage slot.

    The next 2 to 3 quarters will obviously be extremely critical to the overall profitability of Samsung. Yes it's a big electronics producer of a lot of products, but it's still vulnerable in a way with the likes of Apple and other important competitors.

    In other mobile news

    Verizon CFO Fran Shammo, while speaking at a Wall Street Journal conference Monday, made it very clear that the company has no intention of acquiring Dish Networks.

    Shammo also added that Verizon will keep media assets like the Huffington Post and Tech Crunch, which the company acquired in its $4.4 billion acquisition of AOL, but he was very clear about his company's intentions when it comes to Dish-- Niet!

    Overall, multiple reports have surfaced in the past few weeks that Dish is crafting a deal to acquire T-Mobile.

    Just last week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Dish and T-Mobile are looking at a deal that would still leave T-Mobile parent company Deutsche Telekom with a large minority stake in the new company, and that Dish is already talking to banks to secure funding for a $15 billion offer as well.

    And yet some have questioned whether Verizon might be interested in acquiring Dish for its massive inventory of wireless spectrum.

    Shammo denied that Verizon has any interested in Dish's spectrum, telling the Journal that if Verizon had wanted more spectrum it could have easily acquired it at auction.

    This wouldn't be the first time Shammo has put to rest claims that Verizon would go to any length for more wireless spectrum.

    Speaking at an investor conference back in March, Shammo said that in the past, spectrum cost less than it did to add capacity using technology.

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    Source: Sprint Wireless.

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