Google piloting enhanced fraud protection in Play Protect

Google has initiated a pilot program to enhance financial fraud protection within Play Protect, its comprehensive security service for Android devices. Last year, Google introduced a feature in Play Protect prompting users to scan unknown Android apps before sideloading. Now, the company is taking a step further by focusing on financial fraud prevention.

The upgraded Play Protect will analyze and automatically block the installation of apps that may exploit sensitive runtime permissions frequently abused for financial fraud. This heightened security measure is particularly targeted at apps sourced from Internet-sideloading avenues such as web browsers, messaging apps, or file managers.

During installation attempts, Play Protect will inspect the permissions declared by the app in real-time, specifically scrutinizing for financial fraud-related permissions. These include permissions like RECEIVE_SMS, READ_SMS, BIND_Notifications, and Accessibility, which could potentially be misused by fraudsters to intercept one-time SMS or notification-based passwords and spy on screen content.

Google’s analysis of major fraud malware families indicates that over 95 percent of installations come from Internet-sideloading sources, emphasizing the need for enhanced protection in such scenarios.

The pilot program will be rolled out through Google Play services, commencing in the coming weeks for Android users in Singapore. Users encountering a blocked app will receive a notification explaining the situation: “This app can request access to sensitive data. This can increase the risk of identity theft or financial fraud.”

Collaborating closely with the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), Google emphasizes that the enhanced fraud protection has undergone rigorous testing by the Singapore government. The results of the pilot program will be closely monitored, and adjustments will be made as necessary, with ongoing support from Google in malware detection, analysis, and education resources for users and developers.

Developers are advised to review app permissions and adhere to best practices. Updated guidance provides tips on addressing potential issues with apps and instructions for filing appeals if needed.

Meanwhile, Google notes that Play Protect’s real-time scanning has had a substantial impact on user safety in regions like India, Thailand, Singapore, and Brazil. It has successfully identified 515,000 new malicious apps and issued over 3.1 million warnings or blocks, underscoring the effectiveness of this proactive security measure.

At the end of January, Google Play also introduced a new tool that will prompt users who have been stuck on outdated app versions to the latest app versions. 

Written by Jordan Bevan

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