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50 Shades of Support: A Device-Centric Analysis of Android Security Updates

Abbas Acar
Esteban Luques
Harun Oz
Ahmet Aris
Selcuk Uluagac
Network and Distributed System Security (NDSS) Symposium (2024)


Android is by far the most popular OS with over three billion active mobile devices. As in any software, uncovering vulnerabilities on Android devices and applying timely patches are both critical. Android Open Source Project (AOSP) has initiated efforts to improve the traceability of security updates through Security Patch Levels (SPLs) assigned to devices. While this initiative provided better traceability for the vulnerabilities, it has not entirely resolved the issues related to the timeliness and availability of security updates for end users. Recent studies on Android security updates have focused on the issue of delay during the security update roll-out, largely attributing this to factors related to fragmentation. However, these studies fail to capture the entire Android ecosystem as they primarily examine flagship devices or do not paint a comprehensive picture of the Android devices’ lifecycle due to the datasets spanning over a short timeframe. To address this gap in the literature, we utilize a device-centric approach to analyze the security update behavior of Android devices. Our approach aims to understand the security update distribution behavior of OEMs (e.g., Samsung) by using a representative set of devices from each OEM and characterize the complete lifecycle of an average Android device. We obtained 367K official security update records from public sources, span- ning from 2014 to 2023. Our dataset contains 599 unique devices from four major OEMs that are used in 97 countries and are associated with 109 carriers. We identify significant differences in the roll-out of security updates across different OEMs, device models/types, and geographical regions across the world. Our findings show that the reasons for the delay in the roll-out of security updates are not limited to fragmentation but also involve OEM-specific factors. Our analysis also uncovers certain key issues that can be readily addressed as well as exemplary practices that can be immediately adopted by OEMs in practice.