Google's encryption for paid apps isn't enough to protect developers and users, argues author Godfrey Nolan.
Google I/O: 10 Awesome Visions
(click image for larger view and for slideshow)
At its developer conference last month, Google announced that apps created with Android 4.1 or greater and distributed for a fee through Google Play will be armored against piracy.
"From Jelly Bean and forward, paid apps in Google Play are encrypted with a device-specific key before they are delivered and stored on the device," the company said. "We know you work hard building your apps. We work hard to protect your investment."
Godfrey Nolan, author of the newly released book Decompiling Android (Apress, 2012), argues that Google should work harder and extend encryption to both paid and free Android apps distributed through Google Play.
Unauthorized app copying is a problem for both iOS and Android developers, but it's particularly acute in the Android ecosystem due to the relative openness of Android devices and a customer base that appears to be more prone than iOS customers to see nothing wrong with unlawful copying.
A September 2011 report from the Yankee Group found that out of 75 Android developers surveyed, 27% see piracy as a huge problem and another 26% see it as somewhat of a problem. Carl Howe, Yankee Group director of research and author of the report, characterized the Android app environment as the "Wild West."
Nolan's argument is based on the fact that it's extremely easy to decompile Android apps to obtain a close approximation of the original source code. That doesn't make it any easier to copy Android apps--that's already fairly simple--but it does pose a security risk as more and more apps rely on backend services.
"If [your application] contains any clues to gaining access to backend systems, such as API keys or database logins, or if your application has any customer information that needs to be secure, then you owe it to your customers to take basic steps to protect your code," he wrote in his book.
For iOS developers, decompilation isn't an issue. "iOS apps are prone to disassembly, not decompilation, which means you get the hexadecimal binary back but not the source code," explained Nolan in an email. "So with iOS you might be able to see some strings but not anywhere near the entire source code."
There are already steps Android developers can take to protect their code, such as code obfuscation, but encryption for all Android apps available through Google Play would add an extra layer of protection.
We welcome your comments on this topic on our social media channels, or [contact us directly] with questions about the site.
2017 State of IT ReportIn today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Digital Transformation Myths & TruthsTransformation is on every IT organization's to-do list, but effectively transforming IT means a major shift in technology as well as business models and culture. In this IT Trend Report, we examine some of the misconceptions of digital transformation and look at steps you can take to succeed technically and culturally.