Roughly 47 percent of smartphone owners in the US use an Android phone, according to the most recent figures from tracking firm comScore. A big number, obviously, and with it have come very big vulnerabilities, including a flood of Android malware. As we noted late last year, Android phones are the top target for Internet ne'er-do-wells; in fact, in the third quarter of 2011, practically all malware was directed right at Android.
Enter "Bouncer," a new service from Google. Bouncer, Google exec Hiroshi Lockheimer wrote in a blog post today, is a kind of virtual guardian, which automatically scans the Android Market, and notifies Google of any possible malware.
Bouncer "looks for behaviors that indicate an application might be misbehaving, and compares it against previously analyzed apps to detect possible red flags," Lockheimer explained. "We actually run every application on Google’s cloud infrastructure and simulate how it will run on an Android device to look for hidden, malicious behavior. We also analyze new developer accounts to help prevent malicious and repeat-offending developers from coming back."
And there is evidence that Bouncer is already working – according to Lockheimer, the service, which has been active for several months, has led to "a 40% decrease in the number of potentially-malicious downloads from Android Market." In other words, malware is still being flung at the Android market, but the new security system is keeping out at least some of it.
And thank goodness for that, writes Dan Goodin of Ars Technica.
"For years, critics have said Google doesn't do enough to police its own servers for apps that steal user data, rack up expensive charges, and carry out other undisclosed abuse," Goodin notes. "Google's guidelines for Android developers promise they have 'complete control over when and how they make their applications available to users.' While many developers and users welcome the freedom, it has also allowed malware purveyors to install their titles on tens of thousands of Android phones."