Google has added a new feature to the Android operating system that should enable users to return to the home screen when a malicious application takes over the device. The security feature, referred to as a "panic detection mode," records how many times the back button is pressed within a certain time frame. A look into the SystemUI's code shows that the feature is activated when the user taps the back button at least four times, with each tap detected within 0.3 seconds of the preceding input. The panic detection feature then overrides whatever command or application is on display and forces the device to return to the home screen. This provides the user with the opportunity to uninstall the annoying or potentially malicious application.
Malware disguised as an app often abuses the accessibility features of the Android operating system. Such applications use the accessibility features to detect and intercept the key presses made by the user. Since the key presses are intercepted by the application, the only way out of the malicious application is usually by following the prompts present on the screen. The panic detection functionality was added by the Alphabet-owned company to Android 7.1 and isn't supported by older versions of the operating system. At this point, less than one percent of all Android devices run this particular build and even some of the most popular Android flagships released this year have yet to make the jump to it. In addition, not many users know of this feature since Google has decided to keep it relatively hidden and hasn't actively advertised it, likely in an attempt not to alert developers of malicious apps and prompt them to start creating workarounds.
Security of the Android OS has been a key concern for Google and its partners and some recent discoveries of widely-distributed malware and other malicious applications have been quite concerning. With the release of the new security feature outlined above, it seems that Google is looking to do more to fight Android malware. Moreover, this functionality highlights how the search giant is looking at other methods to protect its users aside from the measures already enforced on the Google Play Store. However, this mechanic only deals with a certain group of malware and therefore, consumers are still advised to be extra vigilant with what they are downloading and installing on their devices.