Google says that it is getting better than ever at protecting Android users against bad apps and malicious developers.In fact, in a recent post on the Android Developers blog, the company boasts that it removed a record number of malicious apps from the official Google Play store during 2017.
How many apps did Google remove from its app marketplace after finding they violated Google Play store policies? More than 700,000. That’s an impressive 2000 or so every day, and 70% more than the number of apps removed in 2016.
Copycat apps designed to resemble popular mainstays remain a popular method of trying to deceive users. Google removed over a quarter of a million of these impersonating apps last year. The company also says it kept “tens of thousands” of apps with inappropriate content (pornography, extreme violence, hate, and illegal activities) out of the Play Store. Machine learning plays a key role here in helping human reviewers keep an eye out for bad apps and malicious developers.
So what is PHA?
The term that Google uses for what we would most likely call malware is “Potentially Harmful Applications”, or PHA for short.
“PHAs are a type of malware that can harm people or their devices — e.g., apps that conduct SMS fraud, act as trojans, or phishing user’s information. While small in volume, PHAs pose a threat to Android users and we invest heavily in keeping them out of the Play Store.”
Google doesn’t share in its blog post specific figures for how much malware it is preventing from entering the Play Store, and admits that detection is complex. However, the company does say that install rates of PHAs have halved in the last year:
“Finding these bad apps is non-trivial as the malicious developers go the extra mile to make their app look as legitimate as possible, but with the launch of Google Play Protect in 2017, the annual PHA installs rates on Google Play was reduced by 50 percent year over year.”
Is everything fine?
Despite the reports from Google’s Android security team of impressive improvements, the truth is that bad apps have often been found on the Google Play store, and barely a week goes by without reports of malicious Android apps being discovered and sometimes downloaded thousands of times.
Google has some way to go before it can convincingly claim that it has achieved its aim, to be “the most trusted and safe app store in the world.”
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