Android Nougat security features tickle IT’s taste buds

The latest version of Google’s OS, Android Nougat, has new security features such as file-level encryption. But it’s only available for Google Nexus devices right now.

New Android Nougat security features make the operating system more compelling for businesses.

The latest version of the OS, only available for Google Nexus devices for now, features file-level encryption to better secure corporate content. Additionally, Google has taken a cue from its Chrome OS and added seamless updates to Android, in hopes of making users update their OSes more often. These Android Nougat security enhancements show that Google is continuing to take necessary steps to win over businesses, said Jeff Janovich, a software analyst at Carlisle Construction Materials in Carlisle, Pa., which supports employee-owned Android devices.

"The latest version of Android is a great improvement," Janovich said. "The app-level/file-level encryption is fantastic progress in securing a mobile workforce. They seem to be really focusing on the things that matter to an enterprise as well as delivering a great user experience."

Android Nougat's new encryption protects content at the app or file level rather than encrypting the whole device. IT can enforce the use of file-level encryption on corporate data through enterprise mobility management (EMM) software.

"This is attractive for BYOD environments because you can turn it on for business files but leave personal stuff alone," said Jack Gold, principal and founder of J. Gold Associates, a mobile analyst firm in Northborough, Mass.

The OS also uses a sandboxing approach to separate apps from each other so they can't access data, such as photos, contacts and more, unless the user grants permission. For example, an app might display a prompt asking if it can access a user's contacts or GPS location.

"Anything Google can do to upgrade security and manageability is good for business users," Gold said.

The seamless updates model, which is only available for Android Nougat, aims to address a serious issue. There are numerous variations of Android on the market, partially because many users do not update their devices regularly.

"Many people who currently have Android devices will never see Android [Nougat]," Gold said. "Android is not an operating system. It's a bunch of operating systems."

That trend results in Android fragmentation in the workplace, making it harder for IT to manage so many different -- and often older -- versions of the OS.

Seamless updates could remedy this problem by making updates less intrusive. After a user opts to update, the installation occurs in the background and the user can continue using their device. Prior to this feature, Android updates took approximately 15 minutes, and users could not do anything with their devices until they were complete -- which may have contributed to why users avoided doing it.

Anything Google can do to upgrade security and manageability is good.
Jack Gold, principal and founder, J. Gold Associates

A lingering issue with Android, however, is that not all device manufacturers get new versions at the same time. Android Nougat only runs on Nexus devices at the moment, for example. That means if users have a Samsung, HTC, LG, Sony or any other kind of Android device, they still can't update. This release schedule also causes OS fragmentation.

"It's not unusual for devices not to get updated for six months or longer," Gold said. "That's a significant problem because you are not getting the latest features."

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