Google is adding a new security feature to Android designed to scan installed apps on a device and ensure that they’re not acting maliciously or taking unwanted actions. The system is built on Google’s existing app-verification model, which warns users if there’s a potential problem with an app they’re installing.
The addition to Android’s security system is meant to augment the Bouncer tool that Google uses to scan apps in the Play store for malicious functionality. That feature has been in place since 2012 and has enabled the company to help stem the tide of malicious apps making their way into the app store and onto users’ devices. Bouncer looks for known malware and other malicious behavior.
Android also has a feature that will verify apps during installation and may block them or warn the user of a problem.
“Building on Verify apps, which already protects people when they’re installing apps outside of Google Play at the time of installation, we’re rolling out a new enhancement which will now continually check devices to make sure that all apps are behaving in a safe manner, even after installation. 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. This enhancement will take that protection even further, using Android’s powerful app scanning system developed by the Android security and Safe Browsing teams,” Rich Cannings, an android security engineer, wrote in a blog post.
Most Android users likely haven’t seen the warnings that the Verify apps system throws, but Cannings said that the new system provides an extra meausre of defense against malicious apps. Researchers have found that developers will sometimes send updates to installed apps, adding malicious or otherwise unwanted functionality.
“Because potentially harmful applications are very rare, most people will never see a warning or any other indication that they have this additional layer of protection. But we do expect a small number of people to see warnings (which look similar to the existing Verify apps warnings) as a result of this new capability,” Cannings said.