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Google Play Store bins 700,000 dodgy Android apps

Google removed more than 700,000 corrupted or fraudulent Android apps from Google Play Store in 2017, that’s 70% more than in 2016.

New detection models helped security researchers identify repeat offenders and abusive networks, with more than 100,000 ‘bad developer’ accounts being wiped from the store.

Now Google say it is much more difficult for criminals, hackers or other dodgy developers to create new accounts and create a new raft of insecure apps.

Guide: App permissions – how to use your Android’s first defence

What’s dodgy about Google Play Store apps?

Free games, games that don’t make it clear you’ll be paying microtransactions to complete them, health apps and financial products are all riddled with dodgy developers looking to scam a profit from unwary users.

Luckily for us, not only was 2017 the year Google kept us safer from malicious actors they were also better at proactively protecting Andriod users from the threat of malware.

As part of their new detection models Google claims it was better able to identify repeat offenders and abusive networks.

This, they said, led to more than 100,000 bad developer accounts being taken down, making it far more difficult for these criminals to create new accounts and publish yet another set of bad apps.

More: The beginner’s guide to improved phone security

Not only did we remove more bad apps, we were able to identify and action against them earlier. In fact, 99% of apps with abusive contents were identified and rejected before anyone could install them.

This was possible through significant improvements in our ability to detect abuses, such as impersonation, inappropriate content or malware, through new machine learning models and techniques.

- Andrew Ahn: Product Manager, Google Play Store

Among the areas Google has made strides are against:

Copycats

Copycats remain the most common trick used by malicious apps. This is where an app deliberately impersonates a well-known legitimate app, attempting to fool users into downloading them.

Google said they had removed more than 250,000 such apps last year.

Inappropriate content

Google claimed that the improved machine learning models have been particularly successful at removing inappropriate content, such as pornography, extreme violence, hate and illegal activities.

They estimate that tens of thousands have been removed thanks to the improvements.

Malware

Google uses the term Potentially Harmful Applications (PHA) to describe malware and while small in overall numbers they represent a real and significant threat to Android owners.

And, they claim that thanks to the launch of Google Play Protect last year they were able to reduce the annual PHA installs rate by 50%.

Safer and nicer

“You have a lower probability of being infected by malware from Play than being hit by lightning,” says Andrew Ahn, in a show of support for his bosses.

Without a doubt Google has made enormous strides to make Google Play Store safer for Android users, but even they acknowledge that more needs to be done.

And it does not signify that us users should relax.

We still need to take responsibility for our own smartphone security, taking care over apps you want to install and regularly running anti-virus programs to reduce the risks.

It’s a sad sign of life that malicious actors will continue to bombard Google Play as well as Apple Store with bad apps.

It remains a lucrative business for the criminals and, despite the great strides taken, Google still has a long way to go before it can claim to be, ‘the most trusted and safe app store in the world.’

By:

A veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.
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