Google is turning its attention to improving a vital part of Android security

Martin Brinkmann
Feb 22, 2023
Google Android

Android smartphones, tablets and other devices have increased in complexity in the past decade. Now, Android devices are powered by multi-core processors and many other specialized processors that are part of a System on Chip (SoC).

These other processors play important roles, as they may offer specialized functionality to the system, be it by improving security, helping speed up image & video processing, or managing cellular communications.

The main processor, the Application Processor, was at the center of security in recent years. Threat actors devised methods and programs to exploit vulnerabilities, and manufacturers such as Google patched these and added more security features to make new exploits more difficult.

Google noticed the rise of a new attack vector in recent time. This one focused on "other parts of the software stack", including firmware according to Google. Firmware can best be described as software that powers devices. What makes firmware particularly interesting from a threat actor's perspective are several characteristics:

  • Firmware is executed early when a device is powered on.
  • It may be difficult to update firmware, especially if it has been attacked successfully.
  • Firmware manipulations may grant malware persistency.

Firmware attacks are not as widespread as phishing or the spreading of malicious applications for Android. Firmware attacks are sophisticated, and most focus on lucrative targets and not broad attacks. While that makes it less likely that regular Android users will become the victims of such attacks, it is nevertheless important to deal with this threat.

Google announced plans to improve firmware defenses in future versions of Android. Google launched compiler-based mitigations in Android over the last years that added more layers of defense across the platform. The company wants to use the same methodology to harden the security of firmware that runs on Android.

Google is working with "ecosystem partners" to harden the security of firmware on Android. The company gives two examples. First, by using compiler-based sanitizers and other exploit mitigations in firmware, and second, by enabling additional memory safety features in firmware.

Compiler-based sanitizers are designed to detect bugs in code; Google uses them for other software projects, including its Google Chrome web browser, already. These would prevent exploits that target memory corruption vulnerabilities according to Google.

Google admits that these exploit mitigations are difficult to implement in firmware running on bare metal targets. One of the challenges that engineers face is that these systems are often resource-constrained and designed to "run a very specific set of functions".  Improperly designed mitigations could result in functionality, performance or stability issues on the device.

The main goal is to maximize impact of the mitigations while minimizing the performance and stability impact of them.

Firmware hardening is one of Google's top priorities when it comes to Android security. Google plans to expand these mitigations to more "bare metal targets" in the future, and hopes that its partners will do the same.

The company has yet to reveal when this new wave of mitigations will become available. Google published the first preview of Android 14 earlier this month. Instructions on installing the Android 14 Developer Preview are found here.

Google is turning its attention to improving a vital part of Android security
Article Name
Google is turning its attention to improving a vital part of Android security
Google announced plans in February 2023 to improve the security of firmware in Android devices by making it a top priority.
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  1. Albert said on August 18, 2023 at 1:49 pm

    Thanks for the tip Martin.

    It is for these kinds of posts that I follow GHacks.

    1. Mike Williams said on August 26, 2023 at 8:55 pm

      What’s up with the generic comment, are you a bot?

  2. Tachy said on August 18, 2023 at 3:23 pm


    Where on the planet is that still in use? I was forced to give up using my RAZRV3 years ago because 2G was phased out by AT&T.

    1. arbuz said on August 20, 2023 at 5:02 pm

      Everywhere 3G has been turned off and you don’t have LTE coverage, and believe me there are many developed countries where this is the case and if it weren’t for 2G you wouldn’t even be able to make a phone call.

    2. Doc Fuddled said on August 31, 2023 at 5:55 pm

      Maybe I missed it, but I don’t believe tha term “2G” is in the article. Perhaps you are referring to “AGM G2”??

  3. Tachy said on August 18, 2023 at 3:27 pm


    Your website has gone insane.

    When I the post button I then saw my comment posted on a different article page. When I opened this article again, it is here.

    1. Martin P. said on August 31, 2023 at 4:39 pm

      @Tachy @Martin Brinkmann

      ” Your website has gone insane. ”

      Same here. Has happened several times.

      1. owl said on September 1, 2023 at 3:42 am

        @Martin P.,

        For over two weeks now,
        I’ve been seeing “Comments” posted by subscribers appearing in different, unrelated articles.
        For the time being,
        it would be better to specify the “article name and URL” at the beginning of the post.

  4. Anonymous said on August 18, 2023 at 11:17 pm

    @tachy a lot of non-phone devices with a sim in them rely on 2G, at least here in europe.
    Usually things reporting usage or errors/alarms on something remote that does not get day to day inspection in person. They are out there in vast numbers doing important work. Reliable, good range. The low datarate is no problem at all in those cases.
    3G is gone or on its last legs everywhere, but this stuff still has too much use to cancel.

    Anyhow, interesting that they would put that in. I can see the point if you suspect a hostile 2G environment (amateur eavesdroppers with laptop, ranging up to professional grade MITM fake towers while “strangely” not getting the stronger crypto voip 4G because it is being jammed, and back down to something as old ‘stingray’ devices fallen into the wrong hands).

    But does this also mean that they have handled and rolled out a fix for that nasty 4G ‘pwn by broadcast’ problem you reported earlier this year? I had 4G disabled due to that, on the off chance that some of the local criminals would buy some cheap chinese gear, download a working exploit and probe every phone in range all over town in the hope of getting into phones of the police.

  5. Andy Prough said on August 19, 2023 at 3:04 am

    >”While most may never be attacked in stingrays, it is still recommended to disable 2G cellular connections, especially since it does not have any downsides.”

    The downside would be losing connectivity. I spend a lot of time way out in the countryside where there’s often no service or almost none. My network allows 2G, and I need it sometimes. I have an option on the phone to disable 2G, I may do that when I’m in the city and I have good 5G connectivity, but not out in the country.

    I would imagine that the stingray exploits, like most of the bad things in this world, are probably things you will run into in the crowded big cities.

  6. owl said on August 21, 2023 at 3:40 am

    I stopped using it in a mobile (Wi-Fi line) environment, so I’m almost ignorant of the actual situation,
    But the recent reality in Japan makes me realize that “the infrastructure of the web is nothing more than a papier-mâché fiction”.

    It is already beyond the scope of what an individual can do.
    What we should be aware of is the reality that “governments and those in power want to control the world through the Web”, and efforts to counter (resist and prevent) such ambitions are necessary.

  7. Anonymous said on August 26, 2023 at 9:27 pm

    Why do you want people to disable the privacy features? Hmmmmm?

  8. Anonymous said on August 27, 2023 at 2:30 am

    Now You: do you plan to keep the Ads privacy features enabled?

    I’d like to tell you, but apparently if you make a post critical of Google, you get censored. * [Editor: removed, just try to bring your opinion across without attacking anyone]

  9. Tachy said on August 27, 2023 at 5:15 am


    You website is still psychotic. Comments attach to random stories.

  10. John G. said on August 28, 2023 at 2:46 pm

    @Martin please do fix the comments, it’s completely insane commenting here! :[

  11. ECJ said on August 28, 2023 at 5:37 pm


    The comments are seriously messed up on gHacks now. These comments are mixed with the article at the below URL.

    And comments on other articles are from as far back as 2010.

  12. Naimless said on August 29, 2023 at 12:57 am

    What does this article has anything to do with all the comments on this article? LOL I think this Websuite is ran by ChatGPT. every article is messed up. Some older comments from 2015 shown up in recant articles, LOL

  13. Paul Knight said on August 31, 2023 at 3:35 am

    The picture captioned “Clearing the Android Auto’s cache might resolve the issue” is from Apple Carplay ;)

  14. Anonymous said on August 31, 2023 at 9:57 pm

    How about other things that matter:
    Drop survival?
    Screen toughness?
    Degree of water and dust protection?

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