Google amps up fight against malicious apps with enhanced Android security

Security enhancement continually checks Android apps for vulnerabilities that could be introduced at any time, instead of only at the time of installation

Google is boosting Android security safeguards to better detect potentially harmful apps throughout their life cycle.

The security enhancement, announced Thursday, is designed to continually check Android devices to detect vulnerabilities in apps that could be introduced at any time. Previously, malicious apps downloaded outside of Google Play could only be flagged at the time of installation.

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Such apps, if not detected, could expose personal information, incur unwanted usage charges, or damage the Android device.

The enhancement is built on Android's app scanning system, which was rolled out two years ago to analyze apps for malware, spyware, and Trojans. "We're adding to that service layer, further fortifying your Android phone or tablet," the company said.

The update is available on devices running Android 2.3 or later, and began rolling out Thursday. Users do not have to take action to receive the update.

Because potentially harmful applications are rare, most people will not see any warnings or other indications that they have the additional layer of protection, Google said. The Verify Apps service has been used more than 4 billion times in the last year to check apps at the time of installation. In that time, only 0.18 percent of installations received a warning that the app was potentially harmful, Google said.

But, "we do expect a small number of people to see warnings as a result of this new capability," the company said. "Even though the risk is minuscule, we're committed to making sure that the best available security protections are available to all Android users," Google said.

Android has other safeguards built into its platform, such as application sandboxing, which is designed to reduce harmful apps' ability to damage devices.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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