Analysis

10 August 2018

Fortnite is coming to Android, but players risk downloading malware

An iPhone loading Fornite
Android users can now battle friends with iPhones

Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Fortnite, the global sensation multiplayer shoot-em-up from Epic Games, is finally coming to Google Android devices – and setting off alarm bells with security researchers.

Almost all apps for Android phones and tablets are distributed via the Google Play store, a one-stop virtual storefront which contains books, music, TV series, games and business software.

Like Apple’s App Store, this gives the company a tight control on the software available within – as well as a significant 30 per cent cut on any money made by the developers.

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This is no small sum for Epic. Although free to play, Fortnite has made over $1bn in revenue, mostly from the sale of items that let players personalise how their game character looks. In an effort to avoid handing any of that to Google, Epic is asking Android players to download the game directly from its website.

This isn’t altogether surprising for the company: when releasing the game for desktop platforms, Epic eschewed the usual distributors such as Steam and Origin, opting for direct download. But security experts say doing the same on Android devices sets a dangerous precedent.

In order to download Fortnite, Android users will have to disable a security setting that normally prevents the installation of third-party apps. Even before Fortnite had been officially launched, dozens of sites began offering download links. Invariably, clicking on these would install malware onto users’ devices.

Of course, savvy users will simple verify they are accessing the official Epic website, then turn this setting back on, protecting themselves from the risk of a malevolent download. Some Android devices do this already.

But the broad reach of Fortnite means not everyone will take this precaution. With the game’s frenzied fanbase, including millions of young teens, there is the potential for a large number of people to fall victim to these scams.

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