Mobility

How to make sure your apps are safe with Google Play Protect

Google has started rolling out Google Play Protect to Android devices. Jack Wallen explains how this new feature detects malicious apps, and points out its biggest flaw.

By now, you should be very aware that Google has worked tirelessly to introduce a new system that will go a very long way to protect your device(s) from malicious software. That system is Google Play Protect.

Before you get too excited, not every device has the pleasure of getting to know this new feature just yet. Google Play Protect rolled out with Google Play Services 11. To find out which version of Google Play Services is on your device, go to Settings | Apps | Application List | Google Play Services. If your version reads higher than 11 (Figure A), you're in luck and Google Play Protect is already working on your device.

Figure A

Figure A

Version 11.3.02 running on a OnePlus 3.

As you might expect, there is no Google Play Protect app to be found in the app store, it's completely rolled into the Android system.

What can you do with Protect?

With that said, what can you do with Google Play Protect? The answer: not much. In fact, if you look in your App Drawer, you don't find a launcher for the new protection system. Open up Settings (or Settings | Security) and there isn't a section marked Google Play Protect. You have to dig into Settings | Google | Security | Verify Apps before you find any indication that Google Play Protect is running and protecting your device.

And so, the question remains, what can you do with Google Play Protect? Again, I say, not much. However, I believe that is exactly how it should be. Google has created a system that requires no user interaction and works completely in the background to scan for harmful apps. Once Google Play Services is updated to at least version 11, Google Play Protect will be installed and enabled by default (Figure B).

Figure B

Figure B

Google Play Protect doing its thing.

Once you're on the Google Play Protect settings page, you can't even tap the "more" section of Recently scanned apps. What you can do is disable Play Protect (which you should not do), and enable the sending of unknown apps to Google. Enabling sending of unknown apps will allow apps from outside the Google Play store to be scanned. If you happen to work with apps from unknown sources, consider this a must-use feature.

One thing I did notice was that apps are not immediately scanned as they are installed. I ran a test and installed an app to see if this was the case, only to find the Recently scanned app listing unchanged. What this tells me is that Google Play Protect runs a regularly scheduled scan and is not as real-time as I originally assumed it would be. Although Google states that Play Protect scans your device around the clock, I have yet to see any indication of that. A full hour after installing a random app from the Play store and Play Protect had yet to indicate it had actually scanned the newly added application.

A lot can happen in an hour.

With no means to manually scan an app or a device, this could be problematic. To that end, here's my suggestion, which might not be too popular: After installing an app on your Android device, do not open said app until Google Play Protect has actively scanned said app. This is especially true if you're installing from unknown sources (and you've enabled Google Play Protect to send unknown apps to Google). Do understand that every app is scanned by Google Play Protect from within the Google Play store. But if you're one who likes to be absolutely sure of the security on your device, I recommend waiting until that newly install app appears on the list of scanned apps before opening it.

A great step forward

Google Play Protect isn't perfect. One improvement I'd like to see, is an indication that the system scans an app immediately upon installation. However, even without that particular feature, this new malicious app scanner is a big step forward for Android. If you make use of this new tool wisely, your Android device will be free of malicious apps.

Also see

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Image: Jack Wallen

About Jack Wallen

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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