Should you really be worried about malware on Android?

Android_vampireThe terrible blight of malware on the Android platform has been looming large in some sections of the tech world. Barely a week passes without some new report highlighting the ever-increasing multitude of malware threats. Cyber-criminals inevitably target the most popular platforms and, since more people have Android devices than anything else, the Android platform is currently within their sights.

The spectre of virus threats, frauds and the potential theft of your sensitive information may be growing, but how worried should you be really? To read some of these reports you would assume that turning on your smartphone is akin to inviting a thief into your home, but you have to consider who commissions them. Often the malware threat is exaggerated by companies trying to sell you the solution. In general terms Android is very safe to use and if you apply a little caution there’s very little risk at all.

What are the threats?

Malware is an umbrella term for malicious software. It could be a virus, a Trojan designed to steal your details, software that tries to text or call a premium rate number, or something intended to hijack the device or do the necessary groundwork for a future attack. Phishing attacks are also very common, where criminals send you an email or text pretending to be from a bank or another legitimate organization and invite you to enter details through a fake website reached through a link in the message.

Stay safe on Android

Avoiding malware starts with the application of some common sense. Google has been forced to take the issue more seriously after some high profile headlines about malicious apps in the Android app store, Google Play. There are now safety checks in place and more stringent security on the way to safeguard Android users.

If you avoid downloading and installing apps from other sources, beyond Google Play, then it’s highly unlikely that you’ll run into any problems. Your Android device will block apps from other sources by default. Go to Settings > Security and make sure that the box next to Unknown sources is not ticked and you don’t have to worry about it.

The overwhelming majority of malware threats are identified on Google Play quickly, so avoid being one of the first people to download an unknown app. Always read other user’s reviews and go for apps that have high download figures and high ratings. When you do download an app, make sure that you read the permissions it is asking for, don’t just click through. If it seems unreasonable then don’t install it. A stopwatch app should not need access to the internet, for example. You also need to remember that updates can ask for new permissions so don’t blindly accept them either.

A very popular way to sneak malware onto your device is to create an app that’s designed to look like an existing popular app. You shouldn’t find any of these in Google Play, but the number of downloads and user reviews is not possible to fake, so if you’re checking that before downloading then you’ll be fine.

Peace of mind

You can block malware and eliminate the phishing threat relatively easily and it doesn’t have to cost you a penny. Start with a good antivirus and security app. We recommend avast! Mobile Security or Lookout Security & Antivirus. The offering from Avast is completely free and packed with features, including anti-theft tools to help you locate and remote control your phone if it ever goes missing. Lookout does offer a premium version, but the free version will offer enough protection for most users.

There are a lot of expensive security apps in Google Play, from big names like Norton and Trend Micro, which actually have lower malware detection rates according to independent tests, so don’t assume the brand or price tag will guarantee the best protection.

As for dealing with phishing threats, the answer is simple – never click on a link in an email or text. If you are going to visit a site and enter personal details and a password then always navigate there yourself.

Don’t lose any sleep

The truth about our original question is that you should worry about Android malware, but only a little. If you follow the advice given here and install a free app for extra security then you can afford to forget about it. Criminals, cyber or otherwise, always go for the easiest targets. As long as you don’t make it easy for them, you’ll probably never encounter a problem.

Image via Dead Zebra.

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About Simon Hill

Simon is an experienced tech writer with a background in games development. He has been covering the world of mobile technology for several years now and writes for a variety of popular websites.