Can We Trust the Phone Vendors? Comprehensive Security Measurements on the Android Firmware Ecosystem

IEEE Transactions on Software Engineering(2023)

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Android is the most popular smartphone platform with over 85% market share. Its success is built on openness, and phone vendors can utilize the Android source code to make customized products with unique software/hardware features. On the other hand, the fragmentation and customization of Android also bring many security risks that have attracted the attention of researchers. Many efforts were put in to investigate the security of customized Android firmware. However, most of the previous works focus on designing efficient analysis tools or analyzing particular aspects of the firmware. There still lacks a panoramic view of Android firmware ecosystem security and the corresponding understandings based on large-scale firmware datasets. In this work, we made a large-scale comprehensive measurement of the Android firmware ecosystem security. Our study is based on 8,325 firmware images from 153 vendors and 813 Android-related CVEs, which is the largest Android firmware dataset ever used for security measurements. In particular, our study followed a series of research questions, covering vulnerabilities, patches, security updates, and pre-installed apps. To automate the analysis process, we designed a framework, AndScanner+ , to complete firmware crawling, firmware parsing, patch analysis, and app analysis. Through massive data analysis and case explorations, several interesting findings are obtained. For example, the patch delay and missing issues are widespread in Android firmware images, say 31.4% and 5.6% of all images, respectively. The latest images of several phones still contain vulnerable pre-installed apps, and even the corresponding vulnerabilities have been publicly disclosed. In addition to data measurements, we also explore the causes behind these security threats through case studies and demonstrate that the discovered security threats can be converted into exploitable vulnerabilities. There are 46 new vulnerabilities found by AndScanner+ , 36 of which have been assigned CVE/CNVD IDs. This study provides much new knowledge of the Android firmware ecosystem with a deep understanding of software engineering security practices.
android firmware ecosystem,phone vendors,comprehensive security measurements,trust
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