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Windows 7: Does running an Android emulator bring Android-type security risks?

22 Jun 2016   #1

W7 Pro 64
Does running an Android emulator bring Android-type security risks?

There are a number of Android apps (Google Play-sourced only), mainly photo and video-related, which I like a lot, although I don't really like using a tablet. I've researched a bit into Android emulators which run on Windows 7 e.g. here

6 best Android emulators for PC | Android Authority

and while the idea sounds great, I wonder -- Android is said to have loads of security flaws. I work pretty hard to keep my Win 7 PC clean (I hope!). Is there a risk that by running Android apps, I'm running security risks?

My System SpecsSystem Spec
26 Jun 2016   #2

Windows 7 Ultimate x64

First of all, it's simply not true that Android has "lots of security flaws". Of course it's not immune to viruses and attackers, but it's not inherently that its an immense risk in it. There are vulnerabilities, but most problems actually came from using untrusted software that abuses the devise. As always, the number one vulnerability in any system is the user.

Now to business. There is no exact answer to that question. It will greatly depend on what emulator do you use and how it's exactly implemented, how does it manages to run Android software and how much does it emulated and how exactly. Frequently, I would expect a different implementation of the Android low level API, meaning that bugs in Android will never afect an emulator (which in turn can have its own bugs), unless some behavior is there "by design", in which case the emulator should attempt to copy it.
Besides, I would expect the emulator to isolate the host computer from malicious Android software (which is not generally aware of Windows existence). Unless an Android virus specifically targets a particular flaw of a particular version of a particular emulator (which as already happened with virtual machines), I won't worry too much about it.

The comes the problem of what programs do you install on the emulated Android. When you install a virus there, it will attempt to do the same malicious actions than it would do on a real phone. Some actions will work the same, for example those involving "phoning home" and abusing your internet connection or stealing your data for instance, so you still need to be careful about what do your download there.
Many viruses try to abuse your phone line, like by sending SMSs or calls without your consent, or extracting some private data from you. This is generally less of a concern, because the emulator cannot use a real phone line, hence SMSs and phone calls will fail. Also because of that, there is usually less important data on the emulator (if any). There are no messages, no contact, no phone line on an emulator, so those exploits won't go too far.

Other kind of problems are generally limited to the guest and rarely break into the host, if the emulator is well-behaving. You must, of course, take any regular precaution as with any Windows native programs: run it without administrator permissions, use only a trusted program, try to limit internet access as much as possible and the like, so even in case of a bug, the possible damage is constrained greatly.
Consider too that Android programs aren't aware of Windows, and they have no way to know that there is a Windows kernel out there governing them, they just speak to Android, so that software inside the emulator will likely remain there, even if its a virus. An emulator works differently of things like Wine (that runs Windows programs on Linux-based OSs natively) or WSL (that run Linux console programs on Windows natively). Emulators don't run the programs natively on Windows, they isolate them inside a fake Android system.

Bottom line, while of course every piece of software brings potential risks, the limited environment where Android emulator works makes them reasonably secure in my view. Just take the usual precautions and get trusted programs for Android and get a trusted emulator itself. Unless there is a serious bug in the emulator that an Android virus exploit, it should be generally safe.
My System SpecsSystem Spec

 Does running an Android emulator bring Android-type security risks?

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