Google launches anti-scam feature for Android users in Singapore

Google has launched a pilot feature in Singapore that will block some Android users from installing apps from unverified sources, as part of its efforts to protect them from malware scams. The feature, which was developed in collaboration with the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore (CSA), will be rolled out gradually in the next few weeks.

The new security feature, which is part of Google Play Protect, will detect apps that use sensitive runtime permissions that are frequently abused by fraudsters, such as the ability to read SMS messages, access notifications, or spy on screen content. These permissions can enable scammers to intercept one-time passwords or steal personal data from the users’ devices.

If an app from an unverified source uses such permissions, the feature will automatically block its installation and notify the user with an explanation. The user will not be able to bypass the block unless they disable Google Play Protect, which is not recommended for user safety.

Singapore is the first country to pilot the feature

Singapore is the first country to begin the phased pilot of the feature on Android devices, as the country has seen a rise in financial fraud cases involving malware scams in the past year. According to the police, more than 1,400 victims fell prey to malware scams between January and August 2023, with total losses amounting to at least $20.6 million.

In a malware scam, victims are typically directed to download an Android package kit (APK) file from sources such as websites or messaging apps, to receive gifts or deals. The APK file contains malware that allows scammers to access and take control of the device remotely, as well as to steal passwords stored in the device.

Google Play Protect aims to enhance user security

Google Play Protect is a built-in malware protection system that scans apps on Android devices and warns users of any potential harm. The system also scans apps before they are downloaded from the Google Play Store, which is the official and verified source of apps for Android devices.

Google said that since the launch of real-time scanning in October 2023, Google Play Protect has helped identify over 515,000 potentially harmful apps, and blocked or warned users almost 3.1 million times when they attempted to install such apps.

Google also advised users to avoid downloading apps from unverified sources, and to check the app permissions and reviews before installing any app.

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