Android for Embedded Projects

linuxdotcom.pngThe use of Android as an embedded platform interests me as I have worked on three such projects and those projects seem to have the most potential. Embedded projects are those that use Android to power a single-purpose device where the user interacts with just one app. According to VDC Research

“Embedded products running Android will gain share over the next few years. Over the last three years, Android shipments that did not include smartphones, tablets, and E-readers grew at a CAGR of 149.2 percent, culminating in about 15 million units shipped in 2014.”

VDC say that Android is currently eating into the share of Windows Embedded rather than Linux in areas such as automotive infotainment, medical devices, military handhelds, retail and signage. However, Android isn’t currently being used in areas more typically labeled IoT such as connected home and industrial automation.

Smartphone Shipments Cause Mobilegeddon

idc.gifIDC have some new research that shows how smartphone shipments are already much larger than for desktops and laptops and how the difference is likely to become even larger in the near future.

idcglobalsmartdeviceshipments.png

Expect more and more companies to develop for mobile first. It also explains Google’s “Mobilegeddon” changes coming April 21 when Google will have a great search engine result shuffle based on mobile-friendliness. However, the end goal for Google is probably to be able to target mobile and non-mobile ads more effectively.

Google’s Android for Work is Insecure

androidsecuritylogo.pngThere’s a very interesting article on "Android for Work: Demystified" that dissects Android for Work and concludes it isn’t that secure. The repercussions provide some important learnings for all apps that need to handle sensitive data.

Android for Work and Android disk encryption in general, suffer from a similar expectation and affliction. The expectation is that encrypted drives protect data which isn’t fully true. The affliction is that they only protect data ‘at rest’ while the phone isn’t running. Once the phone is running the drives are seen decrypted from software and can be accessed via root or via exploits that provide access as root.

The solution to the problem is, as the article hints, to encrypt the data itself and not just rely on the drive encryption. This is the crux of the message on my Android security web site. You need to define what data needs to be kept secure and protect it appropriately. Assume your app can and will be attacked and do your best to secure only the data that has to be secured. Don’t solely rely on mobile device management (MDM), drive encryption, apk re-packaging or any other higher level wrapper.

App Security Requirements

androidsecuritylogo.pngI believe that many Android (and iOS) developers have a blind spot for app security. Clients, product owners, product managers or whoever is responsible for the app rarely have security requirements and time-starved developers tend to ignore the problem.

What’s the problem? Well, on Android (see later for iOS) there are so many ways attackers can attack your app. Whether it’s re-packaging your app with malware, repackaging to circumvent functionality, stealing ip or stealing secure data an attacker has many choices of ways to attack. Methods include:

  • Unzipping, decompilation, recompilation and re-packaging of your code
  • Patching Android OS calls at runtime to intercept data
  • Examining runtime memory to see data
  • Taking a backup of app data and reading it offline

Some of these things are possible on unrooted devices and all these things are possible via a rooted device or, more seriously, via exploits that allow temporary access as root. Determined attackers can also create custom ROMs or emulator images that can intercept your app at given points in its lifecycle.

I encourage all Android developers to do some background reading. The droidsec Wiki is a great place to start to see the scale of the problem and the tools available. Unfortunately, there’s a lot more information on how to hack than there is on how to prevent hacking presumably because it’s more fun to break things than fix them. My Android Security site offers a ‘coding first’, guideline-based approach to prevent, as opposed to detect, security problems.

If you are a product owner or product manager I suggest you also research this area, define your secure data and, if necessary, uncover security requirements for your app.

For those iOS developers thinking, "Oh that’s Android, we are safe on iOS", you might like to take a look at Lookout’s latest assessment of iOS security and my previous post on Android vs iOS security.

Updated Mobile Market Research

I continue to regularly update my mobile market research site. Recent additions include…
  • Benedict Evans "App store revenue, and selling to the world"
  • Gartner "Smartphone Sales Surpassed One Billion Units in 2014"
  • Strategy analytics "Apple & Samsung No Longer Control Majority of Tablet Market"
  • IDC "Android and iOS Squeeze the Competition, Swelling to 96.3% of the Smartphone Operating System Market"
  • CSS Insight "Worldwide Tablet Sales to Hit 540 Million Units in 2018"

Latest IDC Smartphone OS Research

idc.gifLatest IDC research shows that Android and iOS made up 96.3% of the Smartphone OS Market in 2014. While Windows Phone grew 21.6% in Q4 2014 that was 21.6% of not a lot which resulted in only 3% market share.

 idcsmartphonemarketshare2014.png

From a developer perspective, this reflects the type of work my clients tend to be doing. Unless a client is doing something vertical and (Android) device specific, all development now seems to be on Android and iOS. It’s more common now for Android development to be done at same time as, rather than after, iOS. I haven’t seen any clients doing Windows Phone or BlackBerry development.

IDC 2014 Western European Smartphone Stats

idc.gifIDC has new data on 2014 European smartphone shipments that shows that both Android and iOS gained market share. The other smartphone OS market shares are relatively small.

idcphones2015smaller.png 

70% of people in Western Europe now have a smartphone. 28 new smartphone brands entered the European market last year. IDC thinks  Windows Phone will grow this year due to its link to Microsoft enterprise systems. Tellingly, they don’t provide any estimates on this growth.