An In-depth Look at Android Pie’s Security and Privacy Features

Google launched Android Pie in 2018, and according to many Android experts, the version was the most secure Android version yet.

Android P incorporates a lot of security and privacy features to ensure that users are protected from outside interference and malicious and sneaky apps.

To fully understand these security and privacy features, here is a thorough analysis of Android Pie.

Android P expanded file-based encryption

When Google launched Android Oreo in 2017, they introduced file-based encryption (FBE) in a bid to secure or harden the Operating System. FBE is a security feature that allows the encryption of different files with different keys. As a result, each file can be unlocked independently.

With FBE, each device has two storage locations available to applications—Credential Encrypted storage (CE) and Device Encrypted storage (DE). The separation of these storage locations makes the work profiles more secure because it ensures that more than one user can be protected per time.

That said, Android Pie has gone a step further and updated the FBE to support external storage media. With the extension, it is possible to encrypt elements such as file size data, directory layouts, and user group permissions.

The large-scale implementation of file-based encryption not only provides better security; it also eliminates some of the vulnerabilities of external storage media.

The version uses SELinux to protect the OS from malicious apps

Android P uses a Linux user-based protection to pinpoint and isolate app resources. The capability to isolate apps from each other makes it possible to protect both the OS and the apps from malicious entities.

Android does this by ascribing a unique user ID to each Android app ensuring it runs in its own process. To make it clearer, consider the example below.

If a certain app C tries to read application D’s data without permission, then the Linux user-based protection will kick in, and the operating system will protect application D because application C does not have the required user privileges.

The stronger layer of security which has been added at the Application Sandbox—inside the kernel—ensures that the security model extends to all operating system applications and the native code.

Android Pie incorporates Control Flow Integrity to curb hacking

In previous versions of Android, an attacker could gain control of a program’s control flow—the order in which instructions, functions, and individual statements are executed—and use that to open a door that would allow him/her to rewrite code to achieve a malicious goal such hijacking a Bluetooth connection.

Cognizant of that, Android P implements and activates by default a security mechanism known as Control Flow Integrity or CFI. With CFI, Android users are protected against Bluetooth and NFC exploitation.

Android P uses Integer Flow Sanitization to curb stealing of data by malicious parties

A while ago, in 2017, Sophos labs reported on a new kind of Android-click fraud apps. The apps had a unique level of sophistication that allowed them to maximize ad revenue without the knowledge of the Android user.

Essentially, the apps worked in the background. At first, they would offer high-end functionality complete with user-friendly interfaces in a bid to engender trust. Once a user downloaded the app and started operating it, the fraudulent app would start communicating with a command and control server in the background.

The background server would then direct the app to send ad requests to ad serving agencies. Note that even if the user closed the app, the ad-serving activity would continue in the background and communicate with the server every 80 seconds.

In the event, that a user would reboot the device, the malware in the fraudulent app would immediately reactivate itself. Note that because the user couldn’t see the actual ad on his/her device, it was impossible to realize that this was happening.

To deal with this, developers of Android Pie introduced a new security measure known as Integer Overflow Sanitization. With the system, the kind of memory corruption and malicious integer operations that lead to the successful operation of such apps (the stealing of data by malicious parties in the background) is curbed.

Android P facilitates increased control to a device’s mic, camera, and other sensors

This measure is largely concerned with privacy. With past Android versions, apps could access your microphone, your camera or any other sensor and use it without your knowledge as long as you had enabled certain permissions.

With the new privacy measures in Android P, an app cannot access your sensors while running in the background. The only way an app can use your sensors is by informing you first.

The measure is a preventative measure to ensure bad apps that abuse the permissions given cannot do so anymore.

According to Xiaowen Xin, a security product manager working on Android, the measure will ensure that anytime an app is idle in the background, the hardware will not deliver any data to it from the mic, camera or any other sensor even if tries to check or request data from these sources.

If an app has a legitimate reason for wanting to access these sensors, then it has to give you a notification that you have to approve.

Android Pie has increased privacy with the network connections

Initially, with previous Android versions, anytime a user connected to a Wi-Fi network, the network was able to see and note the device’s MAC address. A MAC address is a unique number that identifies your device.

Therefore, if a user were to go to different places and connect to the Wi-Fi, all those owners of these networks would have the user’s MAC address. If they colluded or someone gained access, it would be easy to figure out all the places a user frequents.

To combat this, Android P, allows the system to generate a new and random MAC address for each public network a user connects to. That way, no specific device ID follows you everywhere leaving a lasting mark.

The version encourages a move from HTTP to HTTPS

Android Oreo implemented a security measure that allowed app developers to choose whether unencrypted traffic (HTTP) or encrypted traffic (HTTPS) would appear in their apps.

With, Android P, HTTPS is the default which means all the apps should only support encrypted traffic to protect from unsecured traffic.

Ensure end-to-end encryption with a VPN

Android P has made a significant step in securing the operating system. However, vulnerabilities still exist. If the sites you visit do not support HTTPS, the device itself does not does encrypt your internet traffic, that part’s up to you.

Second, even though the random MAC addresses give a bit of anonymity, your privacy is still not completely intact. A malicious person can use your IP address to locate you.

That is where a VPN for Android comes in. A VPN encrypts your traffic and routes you through a secure server. If you’re connected to an unsecured network such as a public Wi-Fi, the VPN hides your browsing activity from snoopers and hackers in proximity to protect you from a Man-In-The-Middle attack. To top it all off, with a VPN, you can access geo-restricted content from magazines, streaming sites, and sports sites.

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About the Author: Ravijit Chavda

Hey, there. I'm Ravijit Chavda, the founder of bloggingbook. I love to create blogs as well as share my experiences through blogging. I am a passionate blogger with having years of experience in blogging and internet marketing.

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