Antivirus for Android — Must-Have or Redundancy?
It’s a well known fact that no device is 100% safe from malware.
We know that viruses for macOS and Windows do exist, and probably some of you have had the unfortunate experience of being infected with one.
What about viruses for mobile devices – does malware for Android exist? What’s the chance of getting a virus on your Android device? Do you need antivirus on Android? Let’s get those burning questions answered.
Is there any malware for Android?
Viruses on Android are not actually viruses, so we’ll call them malware instead. Roughly, we can divide the most common Android malware into the following groups.
The apps, extensions, or scripts that show you unsolicited and unusual ads in places where ads are not supposed to be.
☝️ How it works
Normally, ads on Android only show up when you are browsing websites, and in apps that contain advertisements. Depending on the ad provider, “native” ads could be pop-ups, banners, video ads like those on YouTube, auto-playing videos on websites, or video ads in games that you intentionally launch to get a hint or a boost. On the contrary, adware-related ads could show up anywhere.
If you’ve got adware, you’ll start to notice unusual pop-ups where they are not supposed to be. These intrusive ads can take many forms. They can appear on your home screen while the web browser is not active, as banners on websites that do not update or vanish when you refresh the page, or as notifications telling you about your alleged lottery win.
Do not click on suspicious buttons or pop-ups, even if they promise to show a photo of your future wife or husband or a cash prize. This is how people fall into a trap and install adware by thoughtlessly clicking “Next” to see what will happen at the end.
Some apps are bundled with other apps, plugins, or extensions which are installed on your Android along with the intended application. For example, when installing a file manager, you can end up getting a cleaner or another app that you didn’t want to install.
☝️How they work
Usually, bundled apps don’t put your Android security at risk, but they can take up free storage and also disturb you with unwanted notifications or ads. This is usually because developers are trying to promote their other products or partner apps.
You may notice applications that you don’t remember installing. It is impossible to uninstall the unwelcome app unless you remove the “mother” app that was installed in the first place.
Pay attention to any pre-selected checkboxes on launch screens and do not select all the checkboxes just because they exist. Carefully read the information in the warnings, and the text for the checkboxes too. Be aware of what you are doing and choose reputable apps from trusted creators.
Trojans are malicious apps disguised as useful ones. Once installed, they can cause a wide range of damage to your system.
☝️ How they work
Trojan looks like a normal app, but it can collect your data for advertising, open your device to other malware by changing settings, or even steal your money by silently signing you up for various premium services. For instance, in late 2019 there was a trojan dubbed “the Joker” doing exactly that.
You install a seemingly safe, useful, or fun app, and then your Android starts acting up: the battery starts to drain, your phone overheats, or you get an unexpectedly high phone bill.
It’s quite hard to prevent the trojan infection even if you only download apps from Google Play. Believe it or not, the Joker came from the Google Play store.
The only recommendation here is to avoid free apps that don’t do anything important. But come on, we all want to have fun sometimes by applying face filters to our friends, don't we?
How can an Android device get infected?
There’s a simple rule that can help you understand how your Android can get malware.
Anything that is illegal, dishonest, suspicious, or goes beyond the conceived functionality, can be harmful to the system.
We’ll give you some examples.
Let’s say, you are playing an addictive game and at some point, you realize you cannot reach the next level or your character is not strong enough to win a match. Instead of buying some improvements, you decide to cheat and install an app for this purpose.
Since cheats are illegal, you won’t find one in Google Play, so you resort to going to forums to find a workaround. You find an app or script that could allegedly help you level up, you install it, and… you are at risk of getting malware. These “cheats’’ rarely provide you with what you need and instead create a breach in your Android security or ban your gaming account.
Even if you manage to complete the initial task, you’re likely to regret it later.
Making paid content free
This is similar to cheating in a game, but instead of levelling up, you are trying to get access to “premium” features by means of a dishonest workaround. The danger is hiding in the method: the cheating scripts or apps often require access to the system-level settings to perform certain actions. Since the developer of such software is either unknown or untrusted, you can’t be sure they didn’t put a string of malicious code into the app.
Rooting the Android device is similar to iPhone jailbreak: you deliberately “hack” your device to add certain functionality to the system. “Rooting” means that you crack the inbuilt system protection to allow apps access and change system settings that cannot be changed by default. Since you allow apps to “run as administrator”, your system is exposed to anything that the app contains.
Rooting was extremely popular earlier on when Android phones had limited functionality. Now that Android offers countless possibilities to tweak devices, rooting has become less wanted and more complicated to perform, and much more dangerous.
Is antivirus necessary on Android?
Probably not. We wouldn’t say that it is necessary or even recommended. Google successfully takes care of most of the malware threats out there, especially in the newest OS (operating system) versions.
It won’t do any harm if you install an antivirus for your peace of mind, especially because there are plenty of additional features included in the anti-malware apps. Unlike Apple, Google accepts various antivirus programs on Google Play and allows users to install them and benefit from their features.
In general, the risk of malware for Android is very low, you won’t need to scan your Android for viruses like you may need to do on your computer. Though, there are situations when you might need to opt for a good security solution and install the best Android security app that will fit your needs.
✅ You need antivirus on Android if:
- your device is rooted
- your device is too old to get the latest updates
- You’re not really a tech-savvy person
- you need an extra layer of protection for the sensitive data you store on your device
- you don’t want to overthink every tap on your device
❌ You don’t need antivirus on Android if:
- you are a conscious user that double-checks everything before installing
- you know the difference between trusted websites and untrustworthy pages
- you are aware of the chances of getting attacked and avoid suspicious items
- you use your Android only for calls and almost never install apps
- you update your OS regularly
* * *
The existence of antivirus software for Android completes another important task: it raises awareness about the need to protect your device and to be attentive and careful while using it. The bottom line is, antivirus on Android is not crucial, but in certain circumstances, it can serve a purpose.
Clario is working on a security solution for multiple platforms, including Android. To get the latest news and updates, sign up for our product preview.
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