Google quietly adds revolutionary VPN protocol to next Android OS

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The release of WireGuard (opens in new tab) earlier this year was one of the biggest things to happen to the VPN (opens in new tab) industry in a long time and now Google has added support for the new protocol to the next version of Android.

WireGuard, which was created by Edge Security's Jason A. Donenfeld, uses state-of-the-art cryptography to provide users with the highest level of privacy, security and speed. The new protocol is faster than existing VPN protocols (opens in new tab) and it also only contains just 4,000 lines of code compared to OpenVPN's 100,000 lines of code, making it easier to review and audit.

Just after the release of version 1.0.0 of the protocol back in March, it was added to the Linux kernel and made available in Linux 5.6 (opens in new tab) by Linus Torvalds. As Android is also based on Linux, it makes sense that Google would want to bring native WireGuard support to its mobile operating system by adding it to Android 12's Linux Kernel 5.4 tree.

Adding WireGuard to Android

With every new Android version, Google forks each Linux Kernel release to include “patches of interest to the Android community that haven't been merged onto mainline or Long Term Supported (LTS) kernels”. These kernels are known as Android Common Kernels and they form the Linux kernel that ships with Android devices.

As google releases new versions of Android, the search giant supports several Linux kernel releases. For instance, Linux Kernel versions 4.14 and 4.19 are in Android 11 (opens in new tab) while versions 4.19 and 5.4 will be included with Android 12. Today's flagship Android smartphones run on top of a fork of Linux Kernel 4.19 but with the upcoming release of Android 12, new devices will run on top of Linux Kernel 5.4 which includes WireGuard support.

Recently a number of new commits were added to the Android 12-5.4 tree of the Android Common Kernel and one of these commits was for the WireGuard VPN protocol. Linux kernel developer Greg Kroah-Hartman explained in his commit (opens in new tab) that WireGuard will be available in Android 12 as a simple network device driver, saying:

“This commit implements WireGuard as a simple network device driver, accessible in the usual RTNL way used by virtual network drivers. It makes use of the udp_tunnel APIs, GRO, GSO, NAPI, and the usual set of networking subsystem APIs.”

We'll likely hear more about WireGuard support in the latest version of Android once we get closer to Android 12's official release.

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After working with the TechRadar Pro team for the last several years, Anthony is now the security and networking editor at Tom’s Guide where he covers everything from data breaches and ransomware gangs to the best way to cover your whole home or business with Wi-Fi. When not writing, you can find him tinkering with PCs and game consoles, managing cables and upgrading his smart home.