Android 4.3 Permissions Manager

For the most part, security features of iOS and Android are fairly well matched, being driven by the same threat environment and competitor feature sets.

Over the last year, one exception to that has been the User Permissions control in iOS, where the user can dynamically select to disable certain permissions to apps at the OS level. In some circles is is referred to as Middleware MAC, and the gist of it is that the user needs to have the ability to lockdown individual permissions on each application sandbox – rather than the current Android “accept all requested permissions, or don’t install”.

In practical terms, having User Permissions Management means that (for example), you as a user can block a flashlight app from having access to your contacts – even if it was installed with that permission. This is huge deal since it give the user control rather than the app developer (who you should really not trust too much).

A few of the alternative AOSP ROMs have had some implementation of this for a while – CyanogenMod for example. However, the implementation it was very involved since the AOSP launcher and process spawner (zygote) did not even look at permissions, and had no capability to deny execution or block privileges  – so some fairly deep OS hooks needed to be written to provide this capability. This level of complexity prevented easy implementation on factory OSes.

But now, good news everyone!  In Android 4.3 there are signs that the framework for such a capability (and parts of the userspace tools)are built in in the AOSP codebase. Much like the multi-user framework which started showing up two versions before it was supported, I suspect that 4.4 (kitkat) will have some limited but supported version of user level permissions management, and something beyond 4.4 will have a fully developed capability.

As it sits today, there is a user level tool available, but it is not officially supported and reports are that it has no safeties built in – so you can render an app non-functional quite easily. See the linked article below for details on how to check it out.

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