In March 2020, consumer watchdog Which? reported that 2 out of 5 Android devices no longer receive vital security updates from Google. In the same report, the watchdog noted that around 40% of active Android users are on version 6.0 or earlier of the required operating system (OS), making them extremely vulnerable to malware and other application security threats.

The news is the latest in a long line of known Android security risks that include cryptojacking, data breaches, and spyware. Over the years, Android devices and software providers have come under fire for increasingly long delays between critical OS updates. Experts argue that this delay makes it impossible for Android users to protect their devices from mobile cybersecurity threats, which are evolving at a rapid and continuous pace.

All of these issues were recently thrown into sharp relief with Google’s confirmation of an elevation-of-privilege vulnerability that enables cyber attackers to “get root”, or total control, of a device. Notably, Android users running OS version 7.0 were not susceptible to this particular mobile device security threat. To help explain this latest Android security threat, we’ve teamed up with the cybersecurity experts at ESET. Read on to learn more about ongoing Android update issues and what they teach us about mobile security more broadly.

How Android update issues affect the security

Android privilege escalation attacks akin to that recognized in March 2020 are nothing new. In fact, experts and academics within the information security space have written about cyberattacks of this nature since the early 2010s. In spite of this, privilege escalation attacks have remained a prominent part of the cybersecurity landscape ever since. Why? In large part due to the long delays between new Android updates.

In late 2019, The Verge explained that the reason behind notoriously slow updates to Android devices is the long approval process that third party developers must complete before pushing updates live. Because Android is an open-source group, manufacturers like Sony, Nokia, and Samsung can take this source code and essentially do as they please to develop their own OS. At the end of the development process, manufacturers need to get their updates approved by Google and various mobile carrier networks, to ensure they don’t disrupt the entire mobile ecosystem.

All of this can amount to a long, slow process in which Android users are required to use devices running on outdated software that can’t keep up with evolving security threats. From DDOS attacks to malware, Android devices are left exposed to a host of cyber attacks that can have potentially catastrophic results.

Lessons for mobile device users

While it’s impossible to say whether the process for developing Android OS updates and pushing them live will be shortened in the near future, there are a few simple measures users can take to protect themselves. Whether you’re an Android user or simply own a mobile device, you can never be too careful.

  1. Stay on top of updates

As soon as an OS update becomes available, backup your device and download and install the latest update. Running an up-to-date OS on your device is one of the best ways to ensure that you’re protected from the latest cybersecurity threats. In some cases, planned obsolescence may mean that you’ll need to update your hardware, as certain OS cannot be installed on devices past a certain age. While it’s by no means necessary to update your phone or tablet every year, consider this: The older your mobile device, the higher the risk.

  1. Exercise constant vigilance

It goes without saying, but always be mindful of what you click on and download onto your mobile device. Never download applications from unknown developers or untrusted sources, and delete any emails that contain suspicious-looking links or attachments, even if you recognize the sender. Practicing constant vigilance is your first line of defense against cyber threats like phishing scams and malware, particularly if your device is not compatible with the latest software.

  1. Download mobile antivirus software

One of the best ways to curb Android security risks and prevent cyber attacks on your mobile device is to download mobile antivirus software from a reputable supplier. ESET’s Antivirus for Android software protects your device from phishing attacks, viruses, and Trojans, and uses real-time scanning to detect and prevent emerging threats. Suitable for use across a range of mobile devices, it’s the ideal choice for mobile users who are conscious of their cyber security.

  1. Safeguard Your Mobile Devices Against Cyber Threats

In today’s digital age, protecting your mobile devices from cyber attacks is more critical than ever. Despite the shift towards mobile devices for both business and personal technology use, smartphones and tablets are often neglected in discussions about cybersecurity. Recognizing this, a thorough mobile application security assessment becomes paramount. This assessment involves scrutinizing the security measures of apps installed on your devices, ensuring they adhere to stringent data protection standards and are fortified against potential breaches. Extending the same level of care and protection to your mobile devices as you would to your desktop computer or laptop is essential.

By staying informed about mobile device security threats, including those targeting applications, and taking proactive measures, you can safeguard your personal information and maintain a secure digital presence. Regularly updating your device’s operating system and applications can close security loopholes, and incorporating periodic security assessments for your mobile applications ensures that the security measures are up-to-date and effective. Being cautious about the networks you connect to can prevent unauthorized access to your data. Embracing a comprehensive approach to mobile security, which includes a diligent mobile application security assessment, protects your devices and ensures the confidentiality and integrity of your sensitive information.