Android 4.2 potential security features unveiled: SELinux, VPN Lockdown and Premium SMS Confirmation

October 18, 2012
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Google’s October 29 Nexus event is now confirmed, and we know from various reports that the company will unveil a new Android version during the Nexus 4 presentation, Android 4.2. We’ve seen various Android 4.2 traces out in the wild recently, including details about the new notification system and Gmail 4.2, which was leaked a few days ago and then pulled at Google’s request.

It’s now time to look at a different set of potential Android 4.2 features, as uncovered by Android Police. The publication worked with an LG Nexus 4 system dump to try to figure out some of the new features of Android 4.2, and discovered quite a few perks, all related to Android security.

It’s not known whether all of them will be found in the final Android 4.2 version, but the fact they were discovered suggests Google is taking Android security more and more seriously.

The new Android 4.2 features presented by Android Police are SELinux, VPN Lockdown and Premium SMS Confirmation.

SELinux, short for Security-Enhanced Linux is a new security measure meant to prevent malware apps from taking over any control of an Android device or some of its features:

Security-Enhanced Linux is a set of kernel add-ons and user-space tools first started by the NSA that brings mandatory access control to Linux, which basically means user programs and system servers only run with the minimum amount of privileges they need to function. Unmodified Linux uses discretionary access control. Users can grant high levels of access to files they own, and malicious software can do anything it wants with the files and controls the user has access to. If you run that malicious app with root privileges, it now has access to everything.

In SELinux, there is no concept of a root user. Security policy is defined by an Administrator and applied to every process and object, and nothing can override it.

This new security layer is optional though, and it may be activated on enterprise devices only. The publication warns readers that Android 4.2 is not going to shut down root functionality with this new SELinux feature.

VPN Lockdown refers to a new features that will let users only connect to the Internet when a VPN connection is secure. Whenever VPN is out, users won’t be able to connect to the web. Again, we’re looking at another security feature that enterprise Android customers will appreciate.

Finally, Premium SMS Confirmation is a new security feature that aims to prevent Android users from being silently charged for premium SMS services that could originate from malware apps trying to make money off of users.

Thanks to the new feature, users will be always asked whether they intend to send the SMS to any known or unknown short phone number – which usually designates a premium service – and they’ll be able to choose what to do next. If they intend to send the text out, they’ll be able to do so, but if the SMS is produced by a malware program, then they’ll be able to block it.

Assuming that all these features will be found in the final Android 4.2 build, there’s still one problem with the new security measures. No matter how hard Google tries to fix security issues in mobile OS, if existing devices don’t get updated to Android 4.2 malware apps will keep on taking advantage of older Android versions.

We’re just a few days away from Google’s Android 4.2 unveiling, but we definitely expect more leaks to hit the web in the following days, so keep following us for more Nexus 4-related coverage.

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