Google extends Linux kernel support to keep Android devices secure for longer

Android, like many other operating systems, uses the open-source Linux kernel. There are several different types of Linux kernel releases, but the type that’s most important to Android is the long-term support (LTS) one, as they’re updated regularly with important bug fixes and security patches. Starting in 2017, the support lifetime of LTS releases of Linux was extended from two years to six years, but early last year, this extension was reversed. Fortunately, Google has announced that moving forward, they’ll support their own LTS kernel releases for four years. Here’s why that’s important for the security of Android devices.

↫ Mishaal Rahman at Android Authority

I fully support the Linux kernel maintainers dropping the LTS window from six to two years. The only places where such old kernels were being used were embedded devices and things like smartphones vendors refused to update to newer Android releases, and it makes no sense for kernel maintainers to be worrying about that sort of stuff. If an OEM wants to keep using such outdated kernels, the burden should be on that OEM to support that kernel, or to update affected devices to a newer, supported kernel.

It seems Google, probably wisely, realised that most OEMs weren’t going to properly upgrade their devices and the kernels that run on them, and as such, the search giant decided to simply create their own LTS releases instead, which will be supported for four years. Google already maintains various Android-specific Linux kernel branches anyway, so it fits right into their existing development model for the Android Linux kernel.

Some of the more popular OEMs, like Google itself or Samsung, have promised longer support life cycles for new Android versions on their devices, so even with this new Android-specific LTS policy, there’s still going to be cases where an OEM will have to perform a kernel upgrade where they didn’t have to before with the six year LTS policy. I wonder if this is going to impact any support promises made in recent years.

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