Security

Three important security upgrades to Android N

Jack Wallen thinks the "N" in Android N stands for Next Level, because Google provides next-level security improvements.

Image: Jack Wallen

I updated my Nexus 6 to Android N and, although it's not a massive change to the interface, I'm very impressed. There are features that users will immediately love, and some features they'll never know exist.

Above and beyond multi-window mode and a few other outstanding features added to the platform, there are three improvements that take on various security issues. These are some of the most important updates to Android.

SEE: How to download and install Android N now (ZDNet)

1: Direct Boot

When a phone is first powered up, Direct Boot splits everything into two groups. The first group, Device Encrypted Storage, is a storage location available during Direct Boot and after. Apps and data in this location are able to do things before a user even unlocks the device. SMS messages, alarms, and more will be able to access this feature.

Everything else will be tucked away into a separate storage area, Credential Encrypted Storage, that cannot be accessed until the device is unlocked. This means every app that isn't in the first group will be completely encrypted and inaccessible until the user logs in.

2: Chrome-like updates

If you're a Chromebook user, you're already accustomed to that little arrow icon popping up to say that updates are ready to install. This is very much like the old Windows update. Although that Windows update caused a lot of problems for a lot of people, and issues with Chrome OS updates rarely appear. The same holds true with Android.

This is important because so many users neglect to bother checking for updates. To that end, their devices will go with unpatched security issues for months. With the new update system, those patches will be applied in the background, in a sort of isolated instance of the operating system...running completely isolated from the working instance. During this time, all apps will be optimized (again, in the background). Once all apps are optimized, the operating system will seamlessly transition to the updated version.

This might sound like a disaster waiting to occur, but I've seen it in action on my Nexus 6, and it works like a charm.

3: No more Stagefright

Stagefright has been an ongoing issue for Android for some time; in fact, I've had the Stagefright Detector app on my device since it was released. I can now safely delete that app. Why? Because Google has completely overhauled the underly media framework that was directly responsible for the vulnerability. This will be a massive win for Android, as the media framework has been at risk for some time now. With Android N, that will be no more.

Since Stagefright was announced, there has yet to be a single attack take advantage of that vulnerability. Nevertheless, the vulnerability has existed, and Google knew it was only a matter of time before someone managed to exploit it. Bravo for the big Alphabet for ensuring this does not happen.

So much goodness

Although this is a short list, it's a crucial one. These three updates will go a very long way to improve the security on Android.

The improvements to Android aren't limited to security — you'll see plenty of interesting upgrades to the platform when N finally rolls out to the masses.

Also see

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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