It has been five years since Android exploded onto the scene and since then the world’s most popular mobile operating system has seen a variety of enhancements. The first iteration of Android was lackluster to say the least, although each software update has delivered much-needed improvements. Google (GOOG) completely revamped its mobile platform with the release of Ice Cream Sandwich, the operating system that finally integrated smartphones and tablets. Following the release of Android 4.0, the Internet giant added increased security features to its then Android Market, now known as the Play Store. The “Bouncer” feature worked by analyzing apps that were uploaded to the Play Store, although users who chose to install apps through sideloading were left unprotected. With the introduction of Android 4.2, Google has finally brought a new high-powered security feature to the Android platform.
The software is essentially an extension of the security features found in the Play Store, but rather than scanning apps on the marketplace, Android 4.2’s new security feature will scan for malicious or potentially harmful codes in apps that are loaded onto a user’s device. Users have the ability to completely opt-in or out of the new feature, although it is unclear as to why anyone would be opposed to more protection.
“We view security as a universal thing,” Android VP of Engineering Hiroshi Lockheimer said in an interview with Computer World. “Assuming the user wants this additional insurance policy, we felt like we shouldn’t exclude one source over another.”
The scanning process is conducted behind the scenes and is able to instantly find and analyze third-party apps that are loaded onto a device. If the app is recognized on Google’s servers as a safe program, installation will proceed as normal. If an app is flagged as dangerous, the system will prevent the users from installing it. For programs that Google does not recognize or those that include questionable codes, the system will only warn the user of the potential dangers.
“We have a catalog of 700,000 applications in the Play Store, and beyond that, we’re always scanning stuff on the Web in terms of APKs that are appearing,” Lockheimer said. “We have a pretty good understanding of the app ecosystem now, whether something’s in the Play Store or not.”
Android 4.2 also includes a behind-the-scenes feature that will alert a users anytime an app attempts to send a text message to a premium service. Similar to the app scanning service, this feature can be disabled in the system settings.
The Android platform has been targeted with malware more than any other mobile operating system, however with the latest Jelly Bean software version, Google doing more than ever to keep users safe.