Google’s Android 4.2 App Verification Service Falls Short Versus Competing Anti-Virus Engines

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News Posted: Wed, Dec 12 2012 2:07 PM

Early last month, we learned about what Google had in store for its "App Verification Service" that comes bundled with Android 4.2 (Jelly Bean). The concept was simple; the app would gather bits of information about any app you are about to install, send that information to Google's servers, and then send back the a-OK or a red flag. Sounds good in theory, but how does it really fare?

According to researchers at NC State University, not too well. When hit with 49 randomly selected pieces of malware, Google's scanner raised the red flag for only 20.41% of them. This, compared to most other scanners with 90%+ averages - two with 100% (it's not mentioned which ones these were). Clearly, Google's App Verification Service has a little ways to go.

One could say that this isn't much of a surprise, given Google's app-scanning service launched a mere month ago. However, the fact of the matter is, it simply can't be relied-upon too heavily at the current time. With these results, we'd have to imagine that Google's work in building up its database started not too long before launch - further fueled by the fact that the company only just purchased the anti-virus service VirusTotal.

What should be clear though is that Google's service will get better with time. Along with some of the information we discovered last month, the researchers at NCSU discovered that Google's platform works by sending the app name, SHA1 hash, size, version and URL back to its servers. Unlike typical virus scanners, Google's doesn't seem to use heuristics to discover a piece of malware. Instead, it relies on returning specific information about known malware-infested apps. It shouldn't be long before more advanced techniques are employed, given the company's VirusTotal purchase.

If there's one thing that this entire report points out, it's that app-scanning on Android is big business. As seen in the graph above, ten different AV solutions were tested - that's about 8 more than I even knew existed. And with the amount of malware that's listed in the article's tables, it does make one wonder if running an AV solution would be a good idea after all. 

Or, an alternative would be to download through the Google Play Store and exercise caution whenever side-loading something. These practices alone should easily safeguard you from most potential issues.

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OSunday replied on Wed, Dec 12 2012 7:16 PM

Oh Android... so much more open than iOS with more potential but more vulnerable at the same time

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RWilliams replied on Wed, Dec 12 2012 8:47 PM

Give me potential vulnerabilities any day if I can get everything else Android offers. iOS to me is like if Martha Stewart decorated your prison cell.

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Dorkstar replied on Thu, Dec 13 2012 11:21 AM

lol, I can't agree more RWilliams.  There's just a point though where you can't play with everything, and that's why I like iOS.  I play with hardware and software at work, I go home and tweak/play on my computer, and throughout the day i'm on the phone going to one of 5 apps.  That's all I need it for, I don't want another device with unlimited options, why?  Because I'll never stop playing with it.  iOS keeps it simple, and gives me a little more free time in the day.

Back to the article.  This is and isn't surprising.  You'd think google would have built up a little more before releasing a product.  They had to have did some test internally.  Either way, new product, and I'm sure Google will get it right once it has some more time under it's belt.

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OSunday replied on Thu, Dec 13 2012 12:21 PM

That's true and what I thought initially but with Cydia and a jailbroken iPhone you can do just as much as an android, and considering it's layered on top of iOS my experiences have been that everything still feels just a little smoother and more polished compared with when I tried to max out everything I could do on my rooted Droid X a while back

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Dorkstar replied on Thu, Dec 13 2012 1:56 PM

OSunday:

That's true and what I thought initially but with Cydia and a jailbroken iPhone you can do just as much as an android, and considering it's layered on top of iOS my experiences have been that everything still feels just a little smoother and more polished compared with when I tried to max out everything I could do on my rooted Droid X a while back

I jailbroke my first iphone after I upgraded to the 4, and wasn't really impressed with cydia.  It just felt cheap.

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RWilliams replied on Thu, Dec 13 2012 2:31 PM

I've heard the same thing from a lot of iOS users, and I can understand it. Tweaking aside, I just prefer the openness of Android and what I can do with it without rooting the device. At the moment, none of my Android devices are rooted, but I'm able to side-load apps, use live wallpapers, use widgets and, heh, set a default Web browser. I just don't like the constraints that Apple enforces on people, and though I'm an enthusiast, I don't have extreme interest in using custom ROMs or rooting a device just for the sake of it.

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OSunday replied on Thu, Dec 13 2012 11:20 PM

That's very true.
I'm about to start re-exploring Android since the last time I used it I liked it but wasn't as satisfied because I'm pretty sure I exceeded the limits of my phone when I was experimenting with everything it could do and I suffered a lot of crashed but I'll probably be getting a Kindle or Nexus 7 soon to enjoy messing around with.

And then next year when I have a phone upgrade is when I'll decide whether or not I'll switch back to Android from Apple for my phone... lately phones like the Oppo Find 5 and Samsung Galaxy IV definitely give Android some strong appeal 

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