Google has had enough of hackers and is hunting them down with Play Protect

Google is taking a proactive step in its ongoing fight against hackers. The company has started monitoring Android phones with its Play Protect service.

Google Play Protect, announced in May, is a security tool that uses machine learning to identify potentially harmful apps. The service automatically runs in the background, scanning data and apps constantly. It will send an alert if an app shouldn’t be downloaded or should be deleted.

The service also has a Safe Browsing feature, which monitors Chrome and redirects users if they visit a site that could lead to a virus. Play Protect comes with Find My Device as well, a built-in function similar to Find My iPhone. It allows users to locate and lock lost devices.  

If you ever feel queasy about a certain download, you can check Play Protect’s homescreen in the Google section of your settings under “Security”.

Google Play Protect is available on all Androids with Google Mobile Services (GMS) 11 or newer. GMS is a collection of apps – including YouTube, Google Search and Google Play – that supports functionality. GMS was just updated as GMS 11 last month.

The service is designed to prevent instances such as the malware GhostCtrl taking over popular apps. GhostCtrl disguises itself as a well-known app – namely WhatsApp and Pokémon Go – and gives hackers access to users’ camera, text messages and browser history when downloaded. It can also record video or audio surreptitiously.

The current GhostCtrl virus combines the most damaging features of previous versions, meaning it is expected to develop and become more malignant in the future, according to a blog post by security software company Trend Micro. Previous versions of the virus didn’t have the ability to disguise its malicious backdoor behaviour as another app, for example.

A virus similar to GhostCtrl recently infected desktop PCs, causing a cyber-attack against Israeli hospitals. GhostCtrl spread globally via Android phones, and the damage it does is “extensive, compared to other Android info-stealers,” according to the blog post.

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Google Play Protect has a lot of work to do to ensure the phones of more than one billion users don’t get infected – 50 billion apps need to be scanned per day, to be exact.

This number will likely increase if the trajectory of Android’s popularity continues to rise.

From 2015 to 2016, shipment of Androids went up by 10.3% while the shipment of iPhones went down by 5.2%.

Although the figures from 2016 to 2017 can’t be determined yet, one thing is for sure: each new sale is an added security check for Google.

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