What are Android security updates and why are they important?

If you’re using an Android phone, you’ll almost certainly receive periodic notifications about available security updates. They can come at any time and usually promise to improve your Android smartphone while fixing a problem or two.

But what are security updates and how important are they for your Android smartphone? We’ll take a look.

What are Android Security Updates?

Man next to Android phone with loading written on it.

Android security updates are software updates that provide fixes or new features intended to fix existing security vulnerabilities or protect against anticipated security issues.

To better understand security updates, think of your Android smartphone as a military outpost. It might be heavily fortified but have a secret passage that no one knows about. As long as the enemy does not use the secret passage, the outpost is safe. But that doesn’t mean the passage isn’t there. Once the enemy finds out, it’s a big deal for this outpost.

Likewise, if your Android smartphone has security vulnerabilities, you may be using your device as normal. But that doesn’t mean the problems don’t exist, they do exist. Much like the secret passage, when malicious actors discover security vulnerabilities, they can serve as an entry point to attack your device.

The idea of ​​a security update is to identify these flaws and provide patches to them to prevent hackers or any malicious person from exploiting them.

Apart from fixing flaws, Android security updates also ensure that your device is up-to-date, receives new features, and offers improved performance. That’s why it’s important to buy smartphone brands that are excellent with security updates.

If you’ve been using your Android phone for a while, chances are you’ve downloaded one of those many updates but haven’t noticed anything different. Maybe you even had persistent issues that you hoped a security update might fix, but they persisted.

So, are these Android security updates important? How important is a problem they solve? Is it safe to use an Android phone that does not receive security updates?

How important are Android security updates?

Sometimes you may receive a security update even though your phone seems to be working optimally, which may raise doubts about their importance. It might give you the impression that keeping your Android phone in sync with the latest updates is no big deal. But it does, and here’s why.

The Android operating system, despite years of improvement, isn’t perfect. As new features arrive, new flaws appear. These flaws can range from relatively minor bugs to very problematic bugs that are essential to the daily use of your Android smartphone. Right now, chances are that your phone has a security hole and you don’t even know about it.

Why isn’t Google fixing Android’s security issues before launch?

If you’re wondering why Google doesn’t just patch security holes before shipping the Android operating system, that’s a valid concern. Google’s Android development team is trying to do that. However, the Android architecture is so vast that the next version of the Android operating system might never be ready if Google wanted to patch all possible security vulnerabilities before releasing it to the public.

This does not mean that they intentionally ship the OS with flaws. On the contrary, some vulnerabilities will only be detected when the operating system is deployed by end users, and after it has been rigorously probed by the entire Android community.

Smart phone on a surface

There are independent teams of researchers and ethical hackers who are always looking for security holes in every iteration of the Android operating system. You can think of ethical hackers in this context as people who work tirelessly to identify possible flaws that they can exploit to attack or control your Android device.

The difference between them and bad actors is that once they find a flaw, they don’t use it to attack Android devices, but report them clandestinely to Google so that the company can provide a fix when their next iteration of security updates.

It’s like burglars finding ways to break into your apartment and then telling you to fix them before real burglars steal your stuff. Installing a security update is one of the most proactive security measures you can take to protect your Android smartphone.

Android is open-source

There is another reason why you should adopt security updates. Android being an open source operating system, Google develops the basic version of it and makes it available for free. Licensed smartphone manufacturers can then modify the freely available base version of Android and adapt it to their specific needs.

While this open-source nature encourages more “flavors” of Android, it also opens up your Android smartphone to more security issues beyond that which comes with the base version of Android.

Imagine this. A smartphone manufacturer like, for example, Xiaomi, can change or adjust a few features based on Android to fit their hardware. They can also add new proprietary code to add brand-specific new features to their product. This makes their flavor of Android interesting in unique ways, but it’s also likely going to come with its own security issues.

It is therefore very important to grab all the security updates you can. Of course, you may have no idea what it fixes, but most security flaws are patched before you even know it. And it’s a good thing.

Some Notable Android Security Update Successes

Installing Ubuntu Touch on Android Phone

If you’re not yet convinced of the importance of discreet security updates, here are some historical security flaws that have been patched, some of which you probably didn’t realize.

The StageFright Rift (2015)

It was a security flaw that allowed attackers to gain access to an Android smartphone by sending a specially crafted MMS. Who would think that receiving an MMS would be a security risk? The vulnerability was fixed in updates from Android version 5.0.2.

The QuadRooter Flaw (2016)

Affecting nearly a billion devices, the QuadRooter bug was a security vulnerability affecting Qualcomm chipsets. It was serious. This allowed attackers to gain root access to an Android device, potentially giving them access to the camera, microphone, and almost everything else on the device. It has been fixed by updates from Android 6.0.1.

The Blue Rift (2017)

This vulnerability allowed attackers to access an Android device’s Bluetooth without needing to pair. It was fixed in updates from version 8.0. A similar vulnerability related to Bluetooth was fixed with the December 2022 security updates.

The StrandHogg Rift (2019)

The StrandHogg vulnerability allowed malicious actors to impersonate legitimate apps, giving them a free pass to steal data that those apps would have access to. It was fixed in updates around Android 10.

Adopt Android security updates

Being notified of the next security update can be exciting for some but tiring for many people. If you’re wondering if the next security update is worth spending that extra bandwidth on, the answer is probably yes.

You never know what security vulnerability the next updates you get will fix. So why risk it? Get all the security updates that come your way whenever you can.