Google discusses Android security measures

For the last year, discussions about the risk mobile devices, and the applications they run, have filled the headlines and annual reports of countless security vendors. On Thursday, Google opened up some on the measures they’ve taken to protect the people who’ve come to rely on the Android Market for their application needs.

The Android platform is the fastest growing mobile device platform in the world, and according to Google, Android device activations grew some 250% last year, and Market Place downloads topped out at 11 billion.

On Thursday, Google opened up the velvet rope, and allowed the public to learn a little bit about the Bouncer that checks Android applications at the door, scanning them for malicious intent, and giving them the boot if they don’t make the cut.

“Today we’re revealing a service we’ve developed, codenamed Bouncer, which provides automated scanning of Android Market for potentially malicious software without disrupting the user experience of Android Market or requiring developers to go through an application approval process,” wrote Hiroshi Lockheimer, the VP of Engineering for Android.

Lockheimer explained Bouncer in a company blog post, including the fact that the checks are performed on existing applications as well as new arrivals. Google’s method of testing and evaluation allows them to remove problem applications, while retaining the stance of an open market and development platform, one of the goals for Android from the start.

As a result of this automated scanning, Lockheimer said that downloads of malicious applications fell 40% during the first half of 2011, and they expect this trend to continue. However, he was quick to note that this drop in malicious downloads “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.”

“While it’s not possible to prevent bad people from building malware, the most important measurement is whether those bad applications are being installed from Android Market - and we know the rate is declining significantly.”

On top of the scanning, Google also relies on the publically known methods of protection, which include sandboxing applications, installation permissions warnings, and the ability to remove a known malicious application from all devices where it is currently installed at will. The remote removal is a feature that isn’t used all that much, but Google has used it before, and will not hesitate to do so again.

“No security approach is foolproof, and added scrutiny can often lead to important improvements. Our systems are getting better at detecting and eliminating malware every day, and we continue to invite the community to work with us to keep Android safe,” Lockheimer added.

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