Android KitKat Security Teardown: 4 Hits, 1 Miss

Google sweetens Android with SELinux, plus anti-rootkit technology that makes life difficult for malware -- but also for Android modders.
4. Per-User VPN

Another security improvement is the inclusion of a VPN which -- on multiuser devices, meaning tablets -- can be applied on a per-user basis. "This can allow a user to route all network traffic through a VPN without affecting other users on the device," according to Google.

But there is a caveat. "The downside is that -- from what we see with the AOSP build -- VPN settings are only available for the first tablet user, while other users have to do without VPN at all," according to BitDefender.

5. Finally, Individual App Permission Controls -- Not

One notable omission from Android 4.4 was the promised ability to review the permissions being used by apps, and to revoke them on an app-by-app basis.

"Back in Android 4.3, Android introduced a feature that was supposed to let users individually deny or allow permissions for every application installed on the device," according to BitDefender. "The feature, buried inside an activity called App Ops, was something both average users and security companies have been demanding for years and it would have been for sure nice to have it introduced in KitKat."

Now, however, App Ops appears to have been excised completely, following an Aug. 2, "completely remove app ops activity" change to the Android code base made by Google.

A Google spokeswoman didn't immediately respond to an emailed request for comment on the status of the App Ops feature.

Numerous Security Upsides

The uncertain status of App Ops notwithstanding, the KitKat security enhancements are good news for Android fans. As always, users of older Android devices may have to wait for weeks or months -- or forever, in the case of some particularly laggard carriers and manufacturers -- to see a KitKat update for their devices. But everyone else, including buyers of many new Android smartphones and tablets, will get KitKat installed by default, and from a security standpoint, benefit accordingly.

Editor's Choice
Samuel Greengard, Contributing Reporter
Cynthia Harvey, Freelance Journalist, InformationWeek
Carrie Pallardy, Contributing Reporter
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
Astrid Gobardhan, Data Privacy Officer, VFS Global
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing