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New Security Tools Added to Google’s Advanced Protection

Google is adding a new suite of defensive tools to its Advanced Protection Program to help prevent malicious apps from finding their way onto Android devices.

The Advanced Protection Program is Google’s upgraded security program for higher risk users, such as journalists, activists, and executives, and it includes a number of extra defensive measures. The APP includes the use of hardware security keys for two-factor authentication, better protection against phishing, and additional steps to verify users’ identities during the account recovery process. The program is open to anyone, but it is mainly focused on those higher-risk users.

Today, Google has added several new protections to the program, including the mandatory use of the Play Protect app-scanning capability on any Android device that’s attached to a Google account enrolled in the Advanced Protection Program. Play Protect is the behind-the-scenes system that Google uses to find and remove malicious apps from Android devices. It scans the apps on a devices on a regular basis, looking for known malicious apps or apps that have hidden or potentially harmful features or capabilities. The system is optional for most users, but Google is changing that for people in the APP.

“To ensure that people enrolled in our Advanced Protection Program benefit from the added security that Google Play Protect provides, we’re now automatically turning it on for all devices with a Google Account enrolled in Advanced Protection and will require that it remain enabled,” Roman Kirillov, engineering manager for Android security and privacy, said.

In addition to automatically enabling app scanning, Google also is changing which apps can be installed on devices with an Advanced Protection Program account enabled. Unlike iOS, Android typically allows people to install apps from third-party sources outside of the Play Store. That gives people added flexibility and freedom, but it also adds an element of risk, as apps in those third-party stores typically aren’t subject to the same testing and security review that Google performs before approving apps in the Play Store.

“Advanced Protection is committed to keeping harmful apps off of enrolled users’ devices. All apps on the Google Play Store undergo rigorous testing, but apps outside of Google Play can potentially pose a risk to users’ devices. As an added protection, we’re now blocking the majority of these non-Play apps from being installed on any devices with a Google Account enrolled in Advanced Protection,” Kirillov said.

“You can still install non-Play apps through app stores that were pre-installed by the device manufacturer and through Android Debug Bridge. Any apps that you’ve already installed from sources outside of Google Play will not be removed and can still be updated.”

The changes to the Advanced Protection Program begin today, and Google is planning to roll out some additional anti-malware tools in Chrome later this year, as well.