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Study Finds Google Play Store to Be the Largest Distributor of Malware on Android Devices

Android is the most popular operating system on smartphones. This means it also gets the most apps and app downloads as compared to any other mobile operating systems. The sheer quantity of app downloads on Android devices also makes them prone to malware and viruses that may slip in with app downloads every now and then. A research from NortonLifeLock and IMDEA software institute in Madrid now supports this argument, as it says that the Google Play store is found to be the biggest distributor of malware on Android smartphones.

According to the research, published on SemanticsScholar website, Google Play store accounts for 67.2 percent malicious app installs on Android phones. This, the research points out is due to the volume of downloads from Google Play. The researchers at NortonLifeLock and IMDEA recorded data from 7.9 million apps from 12 million Android smartphones over a four month period to come to their conclusion. Titled ‘How Did That Get In My Phone? Unwanted App Distribution on Android Devices,’ the research says that third party app stores account for only 10.4 percent of malicious app installs. The research also points out that 10 to 24 percent Android users come across at least one unwanted app download.

The research compares downloads from the Play Store, alternative markets, web browsers, commercial pay-per-install (PPI) programs, instant messages, and seven other sources. It says that 87.2 percent of total app downloads on Android come from the Google Play Store. This sheer volume of downloads is also why 67.5 percent of installs for malicious apps came from the Google Play store. Now, this does not mean that the Google Play store allows unsafe apps or its safety measures aren’t strict enough. The study points out that the Play store’s vector detection ratio (VDR) is still lowest compared to other sources. “Play Store’s VDR is only 0.6 percent, better than all other large distribution vectors. Thus, the Play market defenses against unwanted apps work, but still significant amounts of unwanted apps are able to bypass them, making it the main distribution vector for unwanted apps,” the researchers said.

Further, the research said that alternate app markets account for a total of 5.7 percent downloads, out of which, 10 percent were unwanted installs. Further, installs from backups account for 2 percent of the total installs, out of which 4.8 percent were unwanted installs. For package installers, the total downloads came a 0.7 percent, with 10.5 percent unwanted installs among them.

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