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Visiting official online stores is meant to offer consumers a guarantee that what they are buying and downloading is safe. However, it turns out that’s definitely not the case on Google’s Play Store for Android apps.
As ZDNet reports, a recent academic study carried out in collaboration with the NortonLifelock Research Group and IMDEA Software Institute, reveals that the official Play Store is a primary source of malicious and unwanted apps. The study found that 87 percent of all app installs emanated from the Play Store, but 67 percent of malicious app installs also originated from Google’s store. That isn’t to say the Play Store is lacking in security to stop malicious apps, but the sheer size and popularity of Google’s store means any that slip through the cracks are going to reach a very wide audience.
Below is a table taken from the study (available to download as a PDF) showing a breakdown of app distribution sources along with the percentage of unwanted app installs per source:
Unwanted App Distribution on Android Devices academic study
As the study explains, “At the core of our measurements are reputation logs that, over the four-month period between June and September 2019, capture the presence in 12M Android devices of 7.9M apps (34M APKs) and the who-installs-who relationship between apps.” That data was provided by NortonLifeLock in the form of telemetry data.
The study concludes, “We identify that between 10% and 24% of users devices encounter at least one unwanted app. We reveal that the Play market is indeed the main app distribution vector of both benign and unwanted apps, while, it has the best defenses against unwanted apps,” and that, ” Surprisingly, unwanted apps may survive users’ phone replacement due to the usage of automated backup tools.”
Even if the results don’t surprise you, it’s a reminder that if you only source your apps through Google, there’s still a good chance you’re going to encounter malicious or unwanted software. Your best defense against that is a good Android security solution as well as taking the time to read reviews and doing a bit of research before deciding to allow a new app access to your device.
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