Google has made all Play Store-equipped Android devices running Gingerbread or higher more secure by making the malware scanner feature a part of Google Play Services, an app that is installed automatically on all Android 2.3+ devices.
One of Android’s features is both a boon and a huge liability for the OS – the ability to install apps manually off Google’s official app store gives people access to content from third-party stores and gives them a free hand to install any app they want, but it also opens access to the world of pirated apps and, in many cases, a way for malicious code to make its way into a user’s device.
To take care of this liability, Google introduced a malware scanner in Android 4.2 to scan an app’s APK that a user may try to manually install. But it didn’t really help those who were on Android 4.1 and below (constituting more than 90 percent of the OS’ users), so Google has smartly pulled the scanner feature out of the OS and shifted it into its Google Play Services app.
Google Play Services is a companion service of the Play Store (you know, the official Android app store) and is installed on every device running Android 2.3 Gingerbread or higher. Ever noticed that “Google Settings” app on your device? Open it up and you’ll see a “Verify apps” option at the very end, which will step in every time you try to install an APK file off your device’s storage or from a third-party store, though you can decide whether you want to use it after the first time the system kicks in.
Of course, this doesn’t mean you should let your guard down and be any less concerned about verifying which apps you install and where you gain access to them, especially considering Google’s scanner has been found to be a bit lacking in its rate of detection in the past. But you can rest assured that even if you might not be enjoying the latest iteration of Android, Google has your back with at least some semblance of protection against malicious code, which should go a long way in alleviating concerns about Android’s oft-criticized security model.