How Google has been making Android a safer place since 2012

July 28, 2013
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Android 4.3 security Google

Last year in June, Google brought Android Jelly Bean 4.1 to the world. It was a wonderful day, too. It brought with it Project Butter, which spelled the end for lag for a lot of people. Android was running smoother and more complete than ever. Who’d have known that just a year later, we’d be introduced to Jelly Bean not for the second time, but for the third time. Android 4.3 was a mixed bag. Some people were disappointed that it wasn’t Key Lime Pie, but most were happy to see a plethora of improvements, some new features, and even more optimizations. One little footnote that most people have skimmed over so far, though, has been the added security.

It’s not news that malware stories are everywhere. Some of them are no big deal and some are completely ridiculous. Thanks to that, anti-virus companies have been cleaning up. People are more scared of malware on Android now than ever before and they’re flocking to anti-virus apps by the millions. It’s getting to the point where apps like Lookout are coming pre-installed on many devices when they’re shipped out. All because of some malware that, most of the time, is impossible to get unless you download apps from outside the approved channels.

Well, apparently Google is going to fix this problem themselves. JR Raphael over at Computer World has written up an excellent post about how Google is quietly keeping us safe. As it turns out, that little footnote that says that Android 4.3 contains security improvements probably shouldn’t have remained a footnote. It should’ve been printed on billboards and discussed everywhere.

You may have seen inklings of these security features already. We’ve covered one of them, the Android 4.3 Permission Manager, commonly known as Apps Ops. This nifty little feature lets you control what permissions your apps can use. It’s a lovely and powerful feature that’s baked right into Android 4.3. It’s still in beta right now, but eventually that’ll be a part of everyone’s Android experience.

So what other security enhancements does Google have in store for Android 4.3?

We are glad you asked. According to JR Raphael, Google has been working on these security features for years. We’ll do a quick breakdown.

  • Starting with Android 4.2, there was a feature called Verify Apps that was added. This scans phones both downloaded and side-loaded to make sure they didn’t contain malware or pose a threat.
  • Verify Apps was eventually made available to all devices from 2.3 onward. According to JR Raphael, that’s 95% of Android devices running currently.
  • This now works in tandem with another older feature, the app scanner in the Google Play Store that scans apps as they’re submitted to Google Play to make sure they aren’t malicious. This is why you can always download from Google Play without worries.
  • All of these features are currently on Android devices right now.

But wait, there’s more. In Android 4.3 specifically, they have added yet another security feature called SELinux. This stands for Security-Enhanced Linux and it essentially keeps the important parts of your phone safe. Most notably the operating system. So there is protection everywhere.

So we’ll add this up one more time. In the last two years, Google has implemented,

  • An app scanner in the Google Play Store that scans every single app uploaded and submitted. It rejects the bad apps and keeps the good ones.
  • A system on devices from Android 2.3 and up called Verify Apps that scans every app that gets installed on your device to make sure it’s not malicious. Keep in mind that if you download an app from the Google Play Store, it gets scanned twice.
  • Apps Ops –which is still in beta– that will let you control the individual permissions of any application you download and install. So if you don’t want, say, Facebook to see your location, you can prevent that from happening.
  • SELinux, a Linux security feature that protects the core operation system functionality.

Let’s not forget what you, the consumer can do to protect yourself,

  • Only download apps from known and trusted sources. These include the Play Store and the Amazon App Store, among others.
  • Use your common sense. In most cases, malware apps are easy to spot. If you download the free Angry Birds cheat app from GivingYouMalware.com, the end result is rather predictable.

So without an anti-virus app, there are 6 things that are protecting you from the big bad malware threats. That’s a whole lot more than most people realize and it’s an ever expanding project from Google to keep everyone safe from garbage applications. Now here’s the big question. Do you think it’s enough? Or should Google keep going? If you’d like to discuss it, leave a comment below.

 

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