Posted by Andrew Ahn, Product Manager, Google Play + Android App Safety
[Cross-posted from the Android Developers Blog]

Google Play connects users with great digital experiences to help them be more productive and entertained, as well as providing app developers with tools to reach billions of users around the globe. Such a thriving ecosystem can only be achieved and sustained when trust and safety is one of its key foundations. Over the last few years we’ve made the trust and safety of Google Play a top priority, and have continued our investments and improvements in our abuse detection systems, policies, and teams to fight against bad apps and malicious actors.
In 2019, we continued to strengthen our policies (especially to better protect kids and families), continued to improve our developer approval process, initiated a deeper collaboration with security industry partners through the App Defense Alliance, enhanced our machine learning detection systems analyzing an app’s code, metadata, and user engagement signals for any suspicious content or behaviors, as well as scaling the number and the depth of manual reviews. The combination of these efforts have resulted in a much cleaner Play Store:

  • Google Play released a new policy in 2018 to stop apps from unnecessarily accessing privacy-sensitive SMS and Call Log data. We saw a significant, 98% decrease in apps accessing SMS and Call Log data as developers partnered with us to update their apps and protect users. The remaining 2% are comprised of apps that require SMS and Call Log data to perform their core function.
  • One of the best ways to protect users from bad apps is to keep those apps out of the Play Store in the first place. Our improved vetting mechanisms stopped over 790,000 policy-violating app submissions before they were ever published to the Play Store.
  • Similarly to our SMS and Call Log policy, we also enacted a policy to better protect families in May 2019. After putting this in place, we worked with developers to update or remove tens of thousands of apps, making the Play Store a safer place for everyone.

In addition we’ve launched a refreshed Google Play Protect experience, our built-in malware protection for Android devices. Google Play Protect scans over 100B apps everyday, providing users with information about potential security issues and actions they can take to keep their devices safe and secure. Last year, Google Play Protect also prevented more than 1.9B malware installs from non-Google Play sources.
While we are proud of what we were able to achieve in partnership with our developer community, we know there is more work to be done. Adversarial bad actors will continue to devise new ways to evade our detection systems and put users in harm’s way for their own gains. Our commitment in building the world’s safest and most helpful app platform will continue in 2020, and we will continue to invest in the key app safety areas mentioned in last year’s blog post:

  • Strengthening app safety policies to protect user privacy
  • Faster detection of bad actors and blocking repeat offenders
  • Detecting and removing apps with harmful content and behaviors

Our teams of passionate product managers, engineers, policy experts, and operations leaders will continue to work with the developer community to accelerate the pace of innovation, and deliver a safer app store to billions of Android users worldwide.

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Today we’re announcing that Chrome will gradually ensure that secure (HTTPS) pages only download secure files. In a series of steps outlined below, we’ll start blocking “mixed content downloads” (non-HTTPS downloads started on secure pages). This move follows a plan we announced last year to start blocking all insecure subresources on secure pages.
Insecurely-downloaded files are a risk to users’ security and privacy. For instance, insecurely-downloaded programs can be swapped out for malware by attackers, and eavesdroppers can read users’ insecurely-downloaded bank statements. To address these risks, we plan to eventually remove support for insecure downloads in Chrome.
As a first step, we are focusing on insecure downloads started on secure pages. These cases are especially concerning because Chrome currently gives no indication to the user that their privacy and security are at risk.
Starting in Chrome 82 (to be released April 2020), Chrome will gradually start warning on, and later blocking, these mixed content downloads. File types that pose the most risk to users (e.g., executables) will be impacted first, with subsequent releases covering more file types. This gradual rollout is designed to mitigate the worst risks quickly, provide developers an opportunity to update sites, and minimize how many warnings Chrome users have to see.
We plan to roll out restrictions on mixed content downloads on desktop platforms (Windows, macOS, Chrome OS and Linux) first. Our plan for desktop platforms is as follows:

  • In Chrome 81 (released March 2020) and later:
    • Chrome will print a console message warning about all mixed content downloads.
  • In Chrome 82 (released April 2020):
    • Chrome will warn on mixed content downloads of executables (e.g. .exe).
  • In Chrome 83 (released June 2020):
    • Chrome will block mixed content executables
    • Chrome will warn on mixed content archives (.zip) and disk images (.iso).
  • In Chrome 84 (released August 2020):
    • Chrome will block mixed content executables, archives and disk images
    • Chrome will warn on all other mixed content downloads except image, audio, video and text formats.
  • In Chrome 85 (released September 2020):
    • Chrome will warn on mixed content downloads of images, audio, video, and text
    • Chrome will block all other mixed content downloads
  • In Chrome 86 (released October 2020) and beyond, Chrome will block all mixed content downloads.
Example of a potential warning
Chrome will delay the rollout for Android and iOS users by one release, starting warnings in Chrome 83. Mobile platforms have better native protection against malicious files, and this delay will give developers a head-start towards updating their sites before impacting mobile users.
Developers can prevent users from ever seeing a download warning by ensuring that downloads only use HTTPS. In the current version of Chrome Canary, or in Chrome 81 once released, developers can activate a warning on all mixed content downloads for testing by enabling the “Treat risky downloads over insecure connections as active mixed content” flag at chrome://flags/#treat-unsafe-downloads-as-active-content.
Enterprise and education customers can disable blocking on a per-site basis via the existing InsecureContentAllowedForUrls policy by adding a pattern matching the page requesting the download.
In the future, we expect to further restrict insecure downloads in Chrome. We encourage developers to fully migrate to HTTPS to avoid future restrictions and fully protect their users. Developers with questions are welcome to email us at security-dev@chromium.org.

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