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News

Old Android versions need upgrading to remain safe from cyber threats

BitDefender UK : 15 January, 2015  (Technical Article)
Bitdefender explains why users of older versions of the Android smartphone platform may be vulnerable unless they perform an upgrade
Old Android versions need upgrading to remain safe from cyber threats

Following the news that Google will no longer be patching WebView on older versions of Android’s operating system (OS), Catalin Cosoi, Chief Security Strategist at Bitdefender, discusses what users can do to protect themselves against the risks.

Google will no longer be patching WebView on Android 4.3 or earlier, creating furore among security experts. This means that, according to Google’s own statistics, 60% of Android users will potentially be at risk, as that is the number of users using earlier versions of Android’s operating system.

WebView is a tricky component of the Android OS. The problem is that it’s used to render content loaded from the web. As web content can be manipulated by cyber-criminals in transit or can be specifically crafted to trigger an exploit, an outdated and vulnerable WebView instance can lead to a smartphone’s compromise. Malicious ads can also be run in the WebView component to execute code or to trigger exceptions in the normal application flow.

The issue here, for the average user, is that there is no simple solution to keep smartphones protected and risk free. Unfortunately, in the absence of a patch released by the vendor, there is nothing most users can do other than buy a new phone. More tech-savvy Android users, however, could root their phones and flash a third-party ROM based on Android, such as CyanogenMod or Paranoid Android. These alternative ROMs are frequently updated and should ship with hotfixes, although it is unclear whether third-party ROM makers would develop these fixes themselves.

Rooting the device and flashing a new operating system are complex operations though, so most of the vulnerable users will likely be at risk until they switch to a new phone running the latest version of Android. Bitdefender’s advice is to update to the latest OS as soon as possible in order to stay protected.

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