An Investigation of the Android Kernel Patch Ecosystem


Zheng Zhang, UC RIverside; Hang Zhang and Zhiyun Qian, UC Riverside; Billy Lau, Google Inc.


open-source projects are often reused in commercial software. Android, a popular mobile operating system, is a great example that has fostered an ecosystem of open-source kernels. However, due to the largely decentralized and fragmented nature, patch propagation from the upstream through multiple layers to end devices can be severely delayed. In this paper, we undertake a thorough investigation of the patch propagation behaviors in the entire Android kernel ecosystem. By analyzing the CVEs and patches available since the inception of the Android security bulletin, as well as open-source upstream kernels (e.g., Linux and AOSP) and hundreds of mostly binary OEM kernels (e.g., by Samsung), we find that the delays of patches are largely due to the current patching practices and the lack of knowledge about which upstream commits being security-critical. Unfortunately, we find that the gap between the first publicly available patch and its final application on end devices is often months and even years, leaving a large attack window for experienced hackers to exploit the unpatched vulnerabilities

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@inproceedings {263842,
title = {An Investigation of the Android Kernel Patch Ecosystem},
booktitle = {30th {USENIX} Security Symposium ({USENIX} Security 21)},
year = {2021},
address = {Vancouver, B.C.},
url = {},
publisher = {{USENIX} Association},
month = aug,