Google aims to strengthen Android security even for non-Google Play apps

April 11, 2014

The search giant latest advance was announced in a company blog detailing improvements to its Verify apps feature. 

Verify apps checks the security of an app after its installed, even if that app came via an install at a non-Google Play site. Security analysts have been especially critical in warning users not to install apps outside of Google Play as Google does do additional screening to help ensure the apps posted there are free of viruses and malware.

“In the last year, the foundation of this service—Verify apps—has been used more than 4 billion times to check apps at the time of install,” Rich Cannings, an Android Security Engineer at Google said in the blog post. This enhancement will take that protection even further, using Android’s powerful app scanning system developed by the Android security and Safe Browsing teams.” 

Numerous reports from security firms and others have criticized Android’s security and pointed to virus code and other malware they’ve identified, typically at online sites other than Google Play. But some of these are proof concept malware that have limited impact. Google is also generally quick to remove questionable apps from Google Play once it’s been made aware there’s an issue.

In the blog post Cannings claimed that “potentially harmful applications are very rare,” which is why even before this latest security enhancement “most people will never see a warning or any other indication that they have this additional layer of protection.” 

Still he says a “a small number of people” will likely to continue to see warnings pop up even after this new app screening capability is implemented. 

“The good news is that very few people have ever encountered this; in fact, we’ve found that fewer than 0.18% of installs in the last year occurred after someone received a warning that the app was potentially harmful.”

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He concludes by saying that even though Google considers the risk to users “is minuscule” Google will continue to invest in making sure it gives Android users the “best available security protections.”

(Security and management of tablets and apps in the enterprise will be a key session at Tablet Strategy, May 6, 2014 in New York.  If you are involved in a tablet project, you may be eligible for a free pass. Check conditions that apply on our registration page.)

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