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Samsung's long-term plan beyond Android still needs work

When the revelations about the NSA being able to hack into smart TVs to switch on cameras and microphones just a few weeks ago, the last thing Samsung's TV business needed was another privacy scare. Nonetheless, Tizen is now bearing the brunt of that criticism, following claims that the TV and smartwatch OS is woefully insecure.

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According to security researchers at the Kaspersky Security Analyst Summit this week, Tizen has more than 40 security vulnerabilities, all of which would allow an attacker to remotely access and gain control of the device to then do whatever they want - such as switching on cameras, accessing data or installing any other malicious software.

In the case of the Samsung TVs accessible by government agencies, physical access to the device is required; these Tizen holes, however, allow for remote access, and represent a potentially far larger long-term problem for the company.

If Tizen was only used on TVs, the amount of personal data potentially at risk - putting aside the risks of ransomware, for now - would be somewhat more limited, but as it's used on Samsung's flagship smartwatches, which link up with smartphones, the home of all your digital life, it's more of a concern.

Still, smartwatch sales are relatively low in comparison to smartphones. Now imagine if the software had been rolled out on its flagship smartphones already. Android has its fair share of issues with security and privacy, but it's a long way from "maybe the worst code I've ever seen", which is how the researchers described Tizen to Motherboard.

The old and the new

Part of the problem with Tizen, they say, is that code has been lifted wholesale from Samsung's abandoned Bada efforts but that most of the issues are in new code that has been written in the last two years, so it can't be blamed on legacy code or integrating it into a new platform.

"Everything you can do wrong there, they do it," Amihai Neiderman, one of the researchers that found the flaws, said. "You can see that nobody with any understanding of security looked at this code or wrote it. It’s like taking an undergraduate and letting him program your software."

That's a pretty damning statement of a platform that's currently on Samsung's freshly launched S3 smartwatches, as well as other models - and not to forget, TVs.

Samsung started building towards replacing Android back in 2010 with Bada, before merging that project into Tizen in 2012. Five years later - seven years since Bada launched - and though a far superior and more successful platform, Samsung still looks like it's a long way off replacing Android on its smartphones for the visible future. 

Samsung Z2
The Z2 is the most recent handset to run Tizen OS. / © Samsung

Trust is tough to build and easy to lose in consumer electronics, and given last year's Note 7 meltdown, Samsung is already still putting out metaphorical fires - a security issue around its homegrown OS definitely isn't going to help.

The company is relatively lucky that it doesn't use Tizen on its smartphones yet - yes, yes, I know the Z1, Z2 and Z3 exist, but most people don't, and the average buyer on the street almost certainly doesn't. They probably don't know what OS their TV uses, either.

Opinion by Ben Woods
I didn't know that Samsung has phones running Tizen, like the Z2
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Samsung's taking the long, slow route with Tizen, so this latest news that the platform needs retooling to be more secure probably won't make much of a difference to its timeline for device releases and updates; the last handset announced was the Z2 - the first 4G phone to run the OS.

While it might not make much of a difference to timelines, it's not going to help sales of those shiny, new Gear smartwatches much and it's a little disheartening to see so many zero-day vulnerabilities in a product that has been in development for at least five years.

Let's just hope it's not another five years before it's really ready for smartphones, even if it's never really going to replace Android on premium devices.

Would you consider a Tizen smartphone? Let us know in the comments below.

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  • Doug D. 4 months ago Link to comment

    Short, sweet, and to the point. Samsung, you make great hardware, and your software SUCKS. You have plenty of resources for it, hire some people who can turn out software as good as your hardware. PERIOD!

  • Wait a second hold your hourses if this leaked did not come out would any of us would know about all these holes . Just because some paper said so and how come the right people with all the know how didn't know about these holes until now. I'm just ur average consumer but I do know tht big gov't can do this with tech so wht I shouldn't buy Samsung you don't think they can do that with all technology stuff out there please if Apple can tweak there products any one can. So if Samsung has falses all tech products had falses and can be used by other people with enough time and know how.

  • BruinGuy 4 months ago Link to comment

    If Samsung moves to Tizen I move to another manufacturer. Yes, I love Samsung hardware but my loyalty is to Android.

  • No I will not invest in a device running tizen. It lacks in a lot of ways what Android already have in place for example the playstore. With the playstore you have lots of android users using lots of different devices actively designing and creating new apps, games etc. Now you want to go backwards and have a few people developing tizen apps in the future. That is what makes Android unique having a huge Android community behind it with different ideas and ways of doing things adding their knowledge and/or perspectives to the playstore and/or Android and thus the playstore. With tizen you will thus go back with a select few creating apps, probably like minded individuals with the same ideas or copy from the playstore. It will take a long time to develop as it will be a small amount of people. Just a few things I can think of. Just look at the samsung theme store for example, look at their firmware updates all of these are indicators how tizen will be should they decide to go with tizen instead of Android.

  • Samsung is acting like the old Nokia,who used Symbian for years but Struggled to advance it any further and when Android came along the old Nokia was then started to Struggle,Samsung as been trying to get Tizen advanced but they seem to Struggle,Samsung seem very good on producing phones but always struggle on there Software section,Samsung needs to really upgrade the Software Section as there always slow with Updates,and the New Nougart on the S7 Edge as really slowed the phone down now,Why?

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