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By 3 February 2012 | Categories: news

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One of the seemingly growing vulnerabilities of Google’s Android ecosystem has been its Android Market, which for the past several months, numerous internet security companies have been warning was becoming increasingly attractive to cybercriminals and malware.
 
However this week, Google announced a new service named Bouncer to show malware on its Android Market the door and toss wayward developers to the curb.
 
Hiroshi Lockheimer, the vice president of Engineering on Android, explained that Bouncer will automatically scan the Android Market for potentially malicious software “without disrupting the user experience or requiring developers to go through an application approval process”.
 
How it works
 
He elaborated that once an app is uploaded, the service immediately starts analysing it for known malware, spyware and trojans.
 
“It also looks for behaviours that indicate an application might be misbehaving, and compares it against previously analysed apps to detect possible red flags. We actually run every application on Google’s cloud infrastructure and simulate how it will run on an Android device to look for hidden, malicious behaviour. We also analyse new developer accounts to help prevent malicious and repeat-offending developers from coming back,” he continued.
 
Defending Android
 
Lockheimer added that the company had designed Android from its inception for internet-connected devices and in such a way as to render mobile malware less disruptive than that experienced on PCs.
 
To this end, the Android platform relied on a technique called “sandboxing” to put virtual walls between applications and other software on the device. He explained that if a user downloads a malicious application, it can't access data on other parts of one’s phone “and its potential harm is drastically limited”.
 
Lockheimer continued that further provided a permission system to help users understand the capabilities of the apps they install, and manage their own preferences. “That way, if you see a game unnecessarily requests permission to send SMS, for example, you don’t need to install it,” he pointed out.
 
Additionally, he further stated that the platform had been designed to prevent malware from modifying it or hiding from the user, so that it can be easily removed if it affects one’s device. He pointed out that the Android Market also has the capability of remotely removing malware from one’s phone or tablet, if required.
 
Striking back
 
Despite the aforementioned warnings by Kaspersky and McAfee, Lockheimer asserted that Android malware downloads were on the decline.
 
“Between the first and second halves of 2011, we saw a 40% decrease in the number of potentially-malicious downloads from Android Market. This drop occurred at the same time that companies who market and sell anti-malware and security software have been reporting that malicious applications are on the rise,” he continued.
 
To the point
 
Lockheimer did concede that no security approach was foolproof, while further scrutiny could lead to important improvements. However, he reassured that the company’s systems were “getting better at detecting and eliminating malware every day.”
 
He continued that while it was not possible to prevent bad people from building malware, he stressed that the most important measurement was whether those bad applications are being installed from Android Market.  “We know the rate is declining significantly,” he concluded.

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