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Study Identifies Google Play Store As Largest Distributor Of Malware on Android Devices

Cybersecurity firm Norton LifeLock’s research team recently published a study in collaboration with IMDEA Software Institute, investigating unwanted app distributions on Android devices – identifying Google Play Store as the primary distributor of malware on Android devices.

Observing 7.9 million applications on 12 million devices between June and September 2019, researchers found that while Google Play Store has a better defense mechanism against undesirable applications, it still accounts for 67% of unwanted app installs, besides being responsible for 87% of all installs.

Using online service VirusTotal, ‘unwanted applications’ were detected at first – including malware (ransomware, banking trojans) and potentially unwanted programs (PUP) such as adware and rogueware. Following this, the distribution vectors were analyzed.

Vector Distribution

(Source: How Did That Get In My Phone? Unwanted App Distribution on Android Devices)

Ranking second, alternate markets for app installations are used for only 5.7% of all installs, and still, cause 10.4% of unwanted installs. Other installation platforms such as backup restoration, pkg installers, bloatware, browsers, and PPI are responsible for less than 22.5% of unwanted installs collectively, proving that third-party installations aren’t always responsible for malware.

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Despite being the main distributor for unwanted Android applications, the Google Play Store is still the safest platform for installing apps, because its VDR came out to be 0.6%. VDR, or Vector Detection Ratio, is defined as “the fraction of unwanted APKs installed using a distribution vector (e.g., alternative markets, browsers) overall APKs installed through that vector.”

Another important source of unwanted application installation is bloatware – (usually) pre-installed apps that are tricky to uninstall and have unclear functionality. This could be attributed to their source of revenue – unregulated third-party advertisements that entice users and encourage them to click the ads.

It is estimated that 10% – 24% of all devices that are used, come across unwanted applications at least once. Even though the Google Play Store is responsible for most of these, it is much safer than alternative installation platforms.

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