Expanding the App Defense Alliance (Google Online Security Blog)

The App Defense Alliance launched in 2019 with a mission to protect Android users from bad apps through shared intelligence and coordinated detection between alliance partners. Earlier this year, the App Defense Alliance expanded to include new initiatives outside of malware detection and is now the home for several industry-led collaborations including Malware Mitigation, MASA (Mobile App Security Assessment) & CASA (Cloud App Security Assessment). With a new dedicated landing page at appdefensealliance.dev, the ADA has an expanded mission to protect Android users by removing threats while improving app quality across the ecosystem. Let’s walk through some of the latest program updates from the past year, including the addition of new ADA members.

Malware Mitigation

Together, with the founding ADA members – Google, ESET, Lookout, and Zimperium, the alliance has been able to reduce the risk of app-based malware and better protect Android users. These partners have access to mobile apps as they are being submitted to the Google Play Store and scan thousands of apps daily, acting as another, vital set of eyes prior to an app going live on Play. Knowledge sharing and industry collaboration are important aspects in securing the world from attacks and that’s why we’re continuing to invest in the program.

New ADA Members

We’re excited to see the ADA expand with the additions of McAfee and Trend Micro. Both McAfee and Trend Micro are leaders in the antivirus space and we look forward to their contributions to the program.

Mobile App Security Assessment (MASA)

With consumers spending four to five hours per day in mobile apps, ensuring the safety of these services is more important than ever. According to Data.ai, the pandemic accelerated existing mobile habits – with app categories like finance growing 25% YoY and users spending over 100 billion hours in shopping apps.

That’s why the ADA introduced MASA (Mobile App Security Assessment), which allows developers to have their apps independently validated against the Mobile Application Security Verification Standard (MASVS standard) under the OWASP Mobile Application Security project. The project’s mission is to “Define the industry standard for mobile application security,” and has been used by both public and private sector organizations as a form of industry best practices when it comes to mobile application security. Developers can work directly with an ADA Authorized Lab to have their apps evaluated against a set of MASVS L1 requirements. Once successful, the app’s validation is listed in the recently launched App Validation Directory, which provides users a single place to view all app validations. The Directory also allows users to access more assessment details including validation date, test lab, and a report showing all test steps and requirements. The Directory will be updated over time with new features and search functionality to make it more user friendly.

The Google Play Store is the first commercial app store to recognize and display a badge for any app that has completed an independent security review through ADA MASA. The badge is displayed within an app’s respective Data Safety section.

This MASA program launched in beta earlier this year and is now available for all developers. We’ve seen strong early developer interest with leading apps across a diverse set of categories completing validation including Roblox, Uber, PayPal, Threema, Google Photos, YouTube and many more. On average, developers have completed validation within a month and resolved two outstanding issues identified by a security lab.

To learn more about the program and to help developers get started, there’s a Play Academy course dedicated to independent security review. Check out the interactive guidance on the Academy for App Success and get started today!

Cloud App Security Assessment (CASA)

As the industry continues to evolve and software connects more systems through complex cloud-to-cloud integrations, focusing on the security of cloud applications and their supporting infrastructure becomes increasingly critical. CASA (Cloud App Security Assessment) leverages the work set forth in OWASP’s Application Security Verification Standard ASVS to provide a consistent set of requirements to harden security for any application. The CASA framework provides multiple assurance levels in which low-risk cloud applications can be evaluated using either a self assessment or automated scan. For applications which present higher risk (such as a large user base, recent security breach, or processes highly sensitive data), an Authorized Lab may perform an assessment.

Further, the CASA accelerator provides developers with a workflow that minimizes the required checks depending on the developer’s current valid certifications. The CASA checks have been mapped to 10 certifications and frameworks which eliminate redundant testing while lowering the cost of the assessment. Google is continuing to invest in this space with plans to use ASVS more proactively with the developer community next year.

It’s been amazing to see the ADA grow this year and we are excited for the continued progress and expansion around the alliance’s mission.