With the App Defense Alliance, Google Play Protect might actually keep malware off your phone

Google has announced a new alliance to augment its inadequate Play Protect malware detection system.

Credit: Michael Simon/IDG

While Android has come a long way in its fight against so-called “bad actors” in the Play Store, Google isn’t able to stop every malicious app from making its way inside. So it’s stepping up its efforts with the formation of a new App Defense Alliance with some of the biggest name in mobile security.

The partnership brings Google, ESETLookout, and Zimperium together to augment Android’s Play Protect malware scanner that’s been in effect since Android 8 Oreo. Built to run in the background, Play Protect regularly scans the apps in the Play Store and installed on your phone for known malware and alerts users to their existence.

The only problem is, it’s not very good. According to AV-Test’s bi-monthly antivirus review, Play Protect scores dead last in protection and usability, identifying just 55 percent of the latest Android malware attacks versus the industry average of 97 percent.

The new App Defense Alliance looks to boost that number. As Google explains in a blog post, it will be “integrating our Google Play Protect detection systems with each partner’s scanning engines. This will generate new app risk intelligence as apps are being queued to publish. Partners will analyze that dataset and act as another, vital set of eyes prior to an app going live on the Play Store.” That should make it much more powerful in tracking, targeting, and stopping malicious apps before they have have a chance to infect your phone.

Google says it “hand-picked these partners based on their successes in finding potential threats and their dedication to improving the ecosystem.” The new system will use a combination of use a combination of machine learning and static/dynamic analysis to pinpoint bad actors before they can hit the Play Store. Google doesn’t say whether the new system will also work locally on individual phones, but if Google can stop malware from reaching the Play Store in the first place, we shouldn’t have to worry as much about the apps on our phones. 

It’s unclear from the blog post when the new system will go live, but presumably it will take effect via an upcoming Play Store firmware update.

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