Saturday Feb 4th 2012
NEWS ANALYSIS: The Android Market was kind of like the Wild West until Google Bouncer showed up as the new sheriff in town.
As peculiar as the after-the-fact announcement of Google
Bouncer may have been, it was still good news. Perhaps Google was ramping up,
trying to make sure that its Bouncer would work as intended and be able to
handle the flood of new apps submitted to the Android Market. Perhaps the
company just wanted a head start so they could be ready for the malware writers
who will surely try to test the system.
Regardless of the reason, the
fact that Google has its Bouncer checking for apps with embedded malware is a
good thing. Bouncer has several things it does when an app is submitted for
inclusion to the Market. First, it scans the app for known malware, and if it
finds any, then that app is blocked. In addition, Bouncer checks the app for
suspicious functions that may or may not be malware and shuttles those off for manual
Google also runs every app submitted to it for use in the
on a simulated Android device in the cloud to confirm that it behaves
appropriately. If the Bouncer finds that specific developers are repeatedly
sending in apps with Malware, it blocks submissions from that developer.
Google has said that its also in the process of checking
apps already in the Android Market for malware. Its not clear how far along
this process is, but at some point, Google will have ensured that that
everything in the Market is malware-free. Unfortunately, that doesnt really
end the malware problem for Android devices, although it does reduce the level
One of the good things about Android is that you dont
need to get your apps at the Android Market. You can download them from
anywhere. But thats also one of its weaknesses. A third-party app download
site provides no assurance that its stuff was checked for malware. In fact, you
should assume that it hasnt been. And there are a lot of download sites for
Android apps, some legitimate, some not. China in particular has a vast array
of app stores that are outside Googles protection. Considering that a lot
of Android malware seems to come from China, this is unsteady ground indeed.
Likewise, Android doesnt have any real defenses against
malware that comes in through email attachments or Websites. Its entirely
possible to visit a rogue Web page that contains active content that can place
malware on your Android device, just as it is for a Windows PC or an iPhone for
that matter. Fortunately, there are solutions. Most of the major security vendors,
including McAfee, Symantec and Kaspersky have security software for Android
devices. You can download these from the Android Market, and one presumes
theyve been checked for malware by Bouncer.
While it turns out that Google has actually been running
Bouncer for several months, it does point out a problem that had been mostly
ignored since Android first came out, which was the security of this system. It
was fairly obvious from the beginning that Apples AppStore had a significant
security benefit, first because theres relatively less malware for Apple
platforms, and second because Apple was checking the apps.
With Android, there was always a question. And it was
enough of a question that you had to select the ability to download software
from places other than the Market before you could do it by making a menu
choice. By default, that ability is turned off.
So if theres a security problem thats finally being
dealt with in the Android Market and that has been handled since day one by
Apple, what about other platforms? Neither Research In Motion nor Microsoft
has said much about the security of the products in their respective app
stores. However, there is security software available for BlackBerry devices
from McAfee and others. Microsoft has released a number of security updates for
Windows Phone, but so far, there have been no reports of malware emerging from
the Windows Phone app store.
But on a larger scale, the security issues for
Googles announcement is only the latest news in what is
becoming a steady flow of reports of vulnerabilities. And while it closes one
hole through which malware can enter a phone, it doesnt close all of the
all smartphones have vulnerabilities, and all of them are targets. The most
likely reason that there dont seem to be any Windows Phone malware attacks is
probably due more to the tiny market share than any special quality of the
Whats worse is that Apple cultivated the appearance of
being invulnerable to malware, and only recently allowed security software
vendors to offer their products through the Apple AppStore. This belief that
malware doesnt exist for your platform is one of the reasons why malware
spreads. Users dont take the precautions that theyd take if they were using
their computers to visit Websites or open email attachments. Ultimately, the
failure to believe in malware on your phone has its expected consequencesmalware on your phone.
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