Google Play Protect was recently updated with a powerful real-time scanner aimed at protecting users from apps installed outside the Play Store, and the company’s efforts to prevent malicious users from gaining access to user information appears to have paid off. The proactive protection for users on Android smartphones is capable of warning users, preventing app installation, or disabling an existing app — and is capable of stopping several threats, including those that can be used to extort money from users, according to a report.
TechCrunch reports that the updated Google Play Protect malware detection capability, that was announced last month at the company’s Google for India 2023 event, was able to detect and block the publication’s attempts to install apps used to stalk or track users’ movements, marking them as harmful. Meanwhile, the service was also capable of blocking all but five predatory loan apps disguised as other Android apps, that were installed in order to test the ability of the code analysis feature.
Last month, Google explained that the updated Play Protect is aimed at preventing cybercriminals from infecting users’ devices with polymorphic malware — malicious software that is designed to hide or modify its characteristics, making it harder to detect. While Play Protect previously scanned apps using on-device machine learning and an existing database of known malware, the new security features are much more advanced.
With the improvements to Play Protect, Google’s scanners will be able to perform real-time code-level scanning to identify dangerous apps. When an app is scanned, the service will share important signals from the app with the company’s scanning system for analysis. This will help protect users from malicious developers who use AI to obfuscate dangerous code in their apps.
Unlike iOS, Android smartphones allow users to sideload applications that are not available on the Google Play store. As a result, users might install apps in Android Package (APK) format from unknown and untrusted sources and some of these might be modified by malicious actors to collect user information while in use. Countries like India have also seen the rise of predatory lending apps that are known to extort users by using data harvested from their smartphones, including their contacts.
Google announced in October that the improvements to Play Protect would be available for users in select countries on Android smartphones and tablets with Google Play services. The rollout of the new Play Protect scanning functionality is rolling out to users in India followed by other regions, according to the company.