App Isolation to Boost Android 15 Security


On April 17th, IT Home reported that the upcoming Android 15 system might introduce a new feature: App Isolation. This feature aims to better protect users from the harm caused by misbehaving apps.

The Android system has always had robust security mechanisms in place to fend off malicious apps. Google’s app store’s security service, Play Protect, automatically removes detected malicious apps. However, as no security software is flawless, there is always a possibility of misjudgments. Play Protect typically adopts a cautious approach and asks users whether to remove suspected apps. To assist users in dealing with suspicious apps more effectively, App Isolation, possibly being introduced in Android 15, could offer a better solution.

Users familiar with desktop operating systems (such as Windows) antivirus software may find the concept of Isolation quite familiar. When antivirus software isolates a file, it is usually because it suspects malicious behavior, but since it cannot delete the file or confirm its malicious nature, the decision is left to the user. The isolated file is separated from other parts of the system, preventing it from being executed and ensuring that potential malware cannot cause harm.

In the Android system, there is no traditional App Isolation feature due to Android’s emphasis on system security from its inception. Android apps cannot obtain system-level access by default and operate in a sandbox environment. They can only communicate with other apps through predefined APIs and can only access these APIs with explicit permissions. Due to these restrictions, users generally do not need to download third-party antivirus or anti-malware software for their Android devices. As Android’s operation is different from Windows, its App Isolation function also differs slightly from Windows.

App Isolation

How does the App Isolation feature work in Android 15?

When an app is isolated in Android 15, its behavior differs from normal apps. It will still appear on the user’s home screen and in Android settings, but with certain restrictions:

  • Notifications from isolated apps will not be displayed.
  • All windows will be hidden, and running activities will be stopped.
  • The device’s ringtone cannot be controlled.
  • Other apps cannot access its services (but can access its activities).
  • It cannot bind to the system or other apps or receive broadcasts from them.
  • It cannot be resolved.

According to IT Home, based on these restrictions, isolated apps seem similar to disabled apps but can still be seen on the home screen. Additionally, App Isolation resembles the “Pause App” function in the Digital Wellbeing service, but the isolation function allows restrictions on individual app components. In summary, the App Isolation feature lies between disabling apps and pausing apps.

However, it is currently unclear when Google will officially launch this new feature. Signs of App Isolation were first found in the Android 14 QPR2 Beta 1 in November last year, but the developer page for isolating apps has been removed. Although the feature marker for enabling operating system-level app isolation still exists, users cannot manually isolate apps at present, even through command lines. Furthermore, neither the Google app store nor Google Mobile Services app currently request app isolation permissions. Consequently, there is a possibility that this feature may not be rolled out in Android 15 and could be postponed to future versions.

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