You can’t go too far on the Internet without stumbling across an article telling you that your Android device is under constant threat. How true is this? Are we all equally susceptible to attack? Or will I have to go out of my way to be in real danger?
Whatever the answer, any news about a potential risk factor on a device with access to your bank account is difficult to ignore. And there absolutely are dangers out there. Mobile devices are clear targets for anyone looking to steal your data and do you digital harm.
Fortunately, there’s already software in most of our devices that keeps us safe from those dangers. Google includes scanning software as a part of Play Services. In addition, the Google Play Store is continuously monitored in case malicious software is introduced under the disguise of an app. This covers a significant chunk of Android users out there, but not everyone.
“Google’s security services for Android are designed to provide the best security for mobile devices — by default and free for all Android users. As a result, data about the Android ecosystem has shown that Android users face very low risk from potentially harmful applications and other threats. Users can, of course, use any solution they would like, either in addition to or as a replacement for the Google solution, but our goal is to make that purely a matter of choice, not a matter of protection. ”
— Adrian Ludwig, Android Security Lead, Google Inc.
Android lets you install apps from third party sources. That’s not always a bad thing. If you want to, say, install the Amazon App store, which doesn’t live in the Google Play Store, this works perfectly. But by default, the vast majority of phones have that “Unknown sources” switch turned off by default, restricting things to the Google Play Store.
Also, all users weren’t created equal. Some of us will root our device. Why? Just cause we can (or to add system-level features that weren’t included). There are also a handful of Android devices out there that don’t use Google Play Services and can’t access the Google Play Store. These are cases where third-party security would be helpful.
The Bottom Line
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with companies offering alternatives to existing services, especially if it gets people actively thinking about keeping themselves secure. It’s just that in terms of malware protection you’re probably already protected by Google — or by common sense.
Don’t click on suspect links in emails or text messages. Don’t install an app that mysteriously downloaded itself to your phone or tablet. Only use reputable app stores like Google Play or the Amazon Appstore.
Using rooted Android is basically like running a computer in administrator mode. While it’s possible to run a rooted phone safely, it’s definitely a security risk. If you don’t have a good reason to root your phone or tablet, don’t do it.
Android apps also exist that might not be “malware”, but they snoop through your data. Most users don’t read the permissions for the apps they install. If you’re worried about privacy, check apps to see if they request things like access to your contacts, SMS sending/receiving and location. If an app has reason to access these modules (like a social networking app), you’re probably fine. If, however, a flashlight app is asking for your contact list, you might want to think again. And do know that there are a number of disreputable developers out there who sell nothing more than a placebo effect – like an app to help improve the performance of your phone.
The simple truth is, it is inevitable that a platform with over a billion active users will become a target. Can these dangers be avoided by sensible use of your smartphone? In most cases, yes. So do you need extra protection against viruses and malware? Probably not. But it’s really up to you to decide. The downside of installing an antivirus app is negligible. They do consume system resources, but they probably do more good than harm; and if they make you feel more secure, go for it. Also, most antivirus apps don’t just protect you from malware – they also have other helpful features such as secure connection when using public WiFi, easy backup solutions and remote wipe features in case of loss/theft.
Do you have antivirus apps on your Android? Have you ever been affected by malware? Let us know in the comments.