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Unknown Sources: What are Unknown Sources in Android OS?

Many people are worried whenever their phones indicate that the applications they want to install are from “unknown sources”. As a result of this, they may always back off whenever this message appears.  However, indicating that the application being installed is from unknown sources, Google just wants to highlight that the platform is ‘unknown’ to them. In this case, ‘unknown’ means they have not undergone through the Google vetting process. It is important to note that Google prefers to have all its products vetted by it to ensure that they meet the minimum requirements that they have set.

It is important to note that Google is simply promoting applications that are on their Appstore and those of its partners. However, some manufacturers such as Samsung and LG have gone further to ensure that applications from their app stores are not flagged as being from ‘Unknown” sources.   It is important to understand that in as much as the “Unknown Sources” message appears to be worrying, most of the applications that are flagged this way are not dangerous and can be installed on your Android phones. There are various platforms that provide Android apps that users can always install by enabling the installation of apps from unknown sources option.

Why is there a setting for ‘Install from Unknown sources’?

One of the questions that many users may be asking themselves is the reason behind the “install from unknown sources” setting. As noted, apps from unknown sources are not always malicious but just that they are not placed in the platforms suggested and offered by Google.  Therefore, it seems to be a bit questionable why Google would try to prevent users from installing the applications they want from any platform they would prefer.  However, this is a problem that has both support and opposition. The only logical thing Google would do to ensure that everyone felt that their interests were represented is by providing an option through the setting.

It is important to also understand that installing applications from any source is also not always a good idea. Since the apps from unknown sources are not vetted by Google they might contain malware or virus that can harm your phone. Moreover, it is recommended that if you are not sure about the platform on which an app is hosted it is always recommended to stay away from this app. However, with the setting, it is always difficult for any unapproved downloads to take place thus ensuring that you have control of your device.  Google tries to ensure that no unauthorized parties are able to access your device without your approval.

The other benefit of the setting is that it allows developers to operate on their terms. Google Playstore has set guidelines that App developers must adhere to before they upload the apps and some feel that the restrictions are unjust and it affects their development process and app functionality.  The setting ensures that one can also easily access and install applications that are not bound by the Google Playstore guidelines. This opens a limitless capability of app development and use by the developers and the users.  Therefore, it is important to understand that the setting serves the needs of everyone despite their opinion.

Are unknown sources Bad?

One of the issues that arise when one is notified that the application they are about to download is from an unknown source is whether it is bad or not. However, it is important to understand that not all applications from unknown sources are bad.  There are very many platforms that offer good and secure applications but are also termed to be from unknown sources by Google.  The applications from these platforms are usually not vetted by Google and therefore labeled as from unknown sources yet they do not harm the user in any way. It is also important to understand that there are different Appstores that offer Android application and they also vet applications found there since any bad review would harm their reputation.

There are various reasons why some applications are found on “unknown sources’ and not on the Google Playstore.  One of the reason is that Google restricts how developers can earn money from their applications and as a result of this, developers prefer to use other platforms. These platforms may not control how the developer makes their money as long as they do not do it illegally or in a manner to harm the users.

It is also important to note that some applications are better hosted locally by developers rather than uploading them on the Google Playstore.  Developers prefer to host large apps and beta apps locally as this has several benefits over having them hosted at the Playstore.  It is vital to understand that this does not have any adverse effect on the user although Google will flag the application as being from “Unknown Sources”.   Developers can choose where they would like to host their apps and this does not always mean they are harmful. However, it is important to always ensure the “allow unknown sources’ setting is not always on. This will prevent any malicious downloads that may be looking for an opportunity to be installed on your phone.

You are still safe using apps from ‘unknown sources”

One of the things that you need to understand is that you are still protected even if you install apps from unknown sources. Google works to ensure that the integrity of all the Apps installed in a device is maintained and this is achieved through their regular scanning of applications before they are installed on your device. This means that any suspicious application is identified and prevented from being installed.

However, it is important to understand that they regular scans may not always capture malicious activities and it is important to ensure that you verify how legitimate apps are before you agree to install them. This can always help to notice any suspicious activities noted before you grant them access to your device.  This, therefore, ensures that Google does not place the burden of trying to figure out secure apps to you as it is always helping in providing that your device is always secure.

How do I turn Unknown Sources on?

“Unknown Sources” can be accessed on the security settings of your android device. This was available for the earlier versions of android from android 4 but it was later changed in the Android version which is discussed further in this article.

  1. Open the device settings. Look for a gear icon in the notification shade near the top left corner and tap on it.
  2. Scroll down to the Security section and tap to open it.
  3. Scroll down to the entry labeled Unknown sources and read the subtext because you should always read any and all subtext in a “security” section of settings.
  4. Read the pop-up box that tells you Google isn’t responsible if you install apps from places they do not explicitly trust and click OK to enable the setting.

How Android Oreo Changes Everything

Android Oreo has taken a different approach in ensuring that users get to understand the applications they are installing and what they can access on their phones.  This prevents an Application from tricking you from allowing it to access and have it installed in your device without any clear information on what it aims to achieve. Android Oreo ties installation to the app from unknown sources rather than the settings. This means that each and every time that one has to install Apps from unknown sources they have to allow it rather than having a one time settings feature, which will open it for all apps from unknown sources to be installed. This is much safer, and it ensures that android 8 users are always safe even if they forget to switch off their “allow unknown sources” settings on their phone.

The other important feature that the Android 8 introduces is that of allowing one to view all the apps that they have granted permission in the settings. This is an important feature as one can grant or deny app access as soon as they find out that it does not function as expected. Developers can also distribute their Apps to other places and ensure that the users still get a better understanding of what they are using. One of the problems that were there was that in earlier versions of Android, users did not know what the Apps were requesting to access and this had prevented them from installing them.  The language that was being used as a key factor in determining how well the people would adopt the use of different apps.  Getting a list of all the areas that the App accesses can help Android 8 users understand how the ban App from unknown sources function thus choosing whether to keep it or uninstall it.

Unknown sources on Android Pie

Android Pie also provides quite a change in how unknown sources apps are installed.  A change that was not there earlier on that has been brought in Android Pie is that one as to allow the app from which they are going to enable the installation to take place. It is important to understand that users can opt to install unknown sources apps from different Apps such as the “files” app or “Chrome” App. If one chooses to install an app from either of the Apps, they are supposed to provide permission to the app before the installation process goes on.  An example if you are going to download an unknown source app from Google chrome, then you need to need to allow chrome to install the app.

To do this, one needs to open the “settings” app and search for “Unknown.” This search results will highlight “Install unknown apps”. Hit the “Install unknown Apps,” and this will provide a list of all the apps and choose the one that you are installing the unknown source app from. By completing this action, one will easily be able to install apps from unknown sources.

There are several benefits that can be observed from the process. One of the things that Google tries to achieve with this is ensuring that all apps are not allowed to install unknown source apps from all the apps with one type of setting. This minimizes the risk of different applications from taking advantage and installing apps without the knowledge of the user.  There is a need to understand that one can also easily revoke and allow different apps to install unknown sources apps. This ensures that users can customize devices to their needs.

So should I enable It?

The major reason why apps from unknown sources are restricted on Android is to prevent any malicious apps from being installed on your device. However, as noted, it is important to understand that not all apps from “Unknown Sources” are malicious and untrustworthy.  Google and other companies such as Samsung go an extra mile of reviewing apps before they are placed on their app stores, and this ensures that the users do not have to go through the trouble of establishing whether an app is malicious or not.  However, there are some instances that one may be compelled to install apps from this ‘unknown sources” and they have to ensure that they go the extra mile of getting to know whether the apps are malicious or not.

There are various ways in which you can try to figure out whether an app from unknown sources is malicious or not.  One of the first steps that one can do is ensure that they read online reviews about the app. Most app download platforms provide an opportunity for users to provide reviews about the products. However, it is always a bit difficult to understand the reviews if you do not understand what you are looking for. One of the signs that an app is malicious or fake is whereby it has few reviews and a five-star rating.  Most likely a five-star rating app should have many downloads. This, therefore, showcases chances that people are being ripped off by downloading and installing the apps.

Checking permissions that apps seek on your device is also another factor that you should consider checking. It is essential to understand that in order for your app to function well, it may need some level of access granted. However, malicious apps while advertise to offer a certain service but seek permissions that are way out of the intended purpose.  For example, one would understand if a photo app requested to access the camera, but it would be questionable if it asked for access to contacts.  One should always check what information the apps access, and this should provide a clear picture of whether or not they should be allowed to be installed on the devices.

There are other small details that one should not overlook in order to ensure that they are adequately protected from malware by installing apps from unknown sources.  Spelling errors can also provide a picture of the nature of an app.  One of the things that the spelling error can signify is that the app was developed in a hurry and was low budgeted for.  Serious app developers take time with their process and would not overlook some mistakes. However, malicious apps are developed quickly and presented in order to quickly entice people to download and install them. Unbelievable discounts can also provide insight into an App. This is because it is one of the ways used to attract people to use the apps.

It is also important to also ensure that one gets to know who the app developer is.  Any legitimate app developer is more likely to leave a load of information about themselves, and this can help in conduction a background check.  Getting to look any other apps that they have developed before and how it was reviewed may provide a clear understanding of the apps about to be installed. As noted, there are some developers who simply do not what to have their apps on Google’s App store because of the guidelines such as how they can earn from them but not necessarily because they are malicious. However, malicious developers will find it difficult to leave their details. Information about the app will be sketchy, and this should raise concern about the quality of the App to be installed. It is always important to ensure that you stay away from such apps as they are likely to be scams and install malware to your device.

Enabling the installation of apps from ‘unknown sources’ is not good neither a bad thing depending on how one looks at it.  It is important to understand that this is based on trust and there are various ways in which trust can be developed.  Being wary of the specific apps being installed is what should be a matter of concern. It is important to understand that although Google still scans apps before installation, it is always important to ensure that you take the needed measures to protect yourself.


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