Which Android App Store Can be Trusted in China?

  • Yi Ying Ng
  • Hucheng Zhou
  • Zhiyuan Ji
  • Huan Luo
  • Yuan Dong

Published by COMPSAC 2014

China has the world’s largest Android population with 270 million active users. However, Google Play is only accessible by about 30% of them, and third-party app stores are thus used by 70% of them for daily Android apps (applications) discovery. The trustworthiness of Android app stores in China is still an open question. In this paper, we present a comprehensive study on the trustworthy level of top popular Android app stores in China, by discovering the identicalness and content differences between the APK files hosted in the app stores and the corresponding official APK files. First, we have selected 25 top apps that have the highest installations in China and have the corresponding official ones downloaded from their official websites as oracle; and have collected total 506 APK files across 21 top popular app stores (20 top thirdparty stores as well as Google Play). Afterwards, APK identical checking and APK difference analysis are conducted against the corresponding official versions. Next, assessment is applied to rank the severity of APK files. All the apps are classified into 3 severity levels, ranging from safe (identical and higher level), warning (lower version or modifications on resourcerelated files) to critical (modifications on permission file and/or application codes). Finally, the severity levels contribute to the final trustworthy ranking score of the 21 stores. The study indicates that about only 26.09% of level APK files are safe, 37.74% of them are at warning level, and 36.17% of them are surprisingly at critical level. We have also found out that 10 (about 2%) APK files are modified and re-signed by unknown third-parties. In addition, the average trustworthy ranking score (47.37 over 100) has also highlighted that the trustworthy level of the Android app stores in China is relatively low. In conclusion, we suggest Android users to download APK files from its corresponding official websites or use the highest ranked third-party app stores; and we appeal app stores to ensure all hosting APK files are trustworthy enough to provide a “safe-to-download” environment.