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Android malware will eat your children

Malware, malware, malware! You could easily get the impression there’s no hope for any of us on Android unless we install a security app or jump ship to a nice safe platform. What’s with all the scaremongering?

Published onFebruary 28, 2013

android malware

According to the latest report to shock the Android world there’s been a 2000% increase in malware in the Google Play Store and one particularly vicious virus is capable of reaching through the touchscreen and devouring your children whole. That’s according to a survey of 200 deliberately infected Android devices conducted by Generic Mobile Security Firm. Seriously, is anyone else sick of reading this kind of thing?

In recent months we’ve been inundated with reports that malware is up 580% and 23 apps in the top 500 in the Google Play Store are “high risk”. We’ve heard that will be “an exponential growth of mobile malware” this year mostly targeted at Android. We’ve even heard that 18 million Android devices are going to be infected this year. What do these reports all have in common? Look at the companies behind them – TrustGo, Eset, and Lookout Mobile Security. All of them have a vested interest in persuading you to install some kind of antivirus app on your Android device.

Malware is real, but…

No platform is immune to malware threats, partly because malware is a catch-all term for malicious software and that’s a big pretty big category. Android is inevitably being targeted because it is the most popular mobile platform. Exactly the same reason that Windows is targeted, but there is one important difference – Android is a lot less susceptible to attack than Windows is. Microsoft still has the gall to dig for Android malware stories with its disastrous #DroidRage campaign.

Anecdotally I’ve had several malware problems on my PC and laptop and I’ve heard frequent complaints about malware on Windows from friends and family. I’ve yet to encounter anyone who has had an Android malware problem. I have no doubt Android malware exists, but the threat is being exaggerated to ridiculous levels by security app developers and then being picked up by rival platform fans and even execs as a stick to beat Android with.

Let’s get some perspective

The problem with these reports is that they don’t tell the full story. They don’t mention that your average Android user who never enables app installation from Unknown sources is incredibly unlikely to encounter any problems. If you stick to Google Play Store and you only install apps and games that have high download figures and lots of reviews then you are at virtually no risk of running into malware.

You have to choose to download malware onto your device. Those tricky cybercriminals try to fool you into doing it, but malware is like vampires – if you don’t invite it into your house then it can’t harm you. If you stick to the Play Store for apps and games, you avoid clicking links in emails, you avoid downloading anything from websites that you don’t know, and you never follow a link within, or respond to, a mystery SMS, then you’ll be fine.

Why pay when you don’t have to?

If you’d rather have complete peace of mind then there’s nothing wrong with installing a security app. I use Avast because it’s bundled with some handy anti-theft tools, but there are plenty of good options out there. The important thing is to ensure that you really are picking a good option. Keep an eye on AV Test’s mobile app security report for a genuinely independent overview of the best security apps on the platform.

The important thing to point out here is that there are several completely free Android security apps that offer exactly the same features as the premium ones. In fact, some of the free apps offer more features. To make matters worse, several of those free apps are absolutely trouncing the big brand names when it comes to malware detection. Don’t assume the recognizable brands are better than the rest.

Too many of the big names in computer security are trading on the trust they’ve built on your computer or laptop. McAfee, Norton, Kaspersky, Eset and others are charging a lot of money for a lower, or at best comparable, level of protection than you would get from a free alternative like the one being offered by TrustGo, Avast, or even the free version of Lookout. You definitely do not need to be spending money in order to keep your Android smartphone free of malware.

What if you need serious security?

Applying some common sense combined with a highly rated security app should be enough for most people, but in the enterprise Android really needs to scrub up its image. That’s why we’re seeing developments like Samsung’s security system, Knox, which is designed to calm IT admins struggling to accommodate the BYOD trend. It looks like a serious threat to BlackBerry’s base and it also signals Samsung’s intent to conquer a new market. We’re betting it will ship on the Galaxy S4 and it could encourage competing manufacturers to follow suit and tighten up Android security.

The reality

Google has also made moves to reassure Android users with the verify apps security feature in Android 4.2 and tighter restrictions in the Play Store. Even as the number of malware threats grows the number of people who are exposed to them could be dropping. If it’s perceived to be a big problem, whether it really is or not, the major manufacturers and Google will treat it more seriously and tackle the issue head on. In reality the Android platform is growing more secure all the time. We just can’t discount the ingenuity of those pesky cybercriminals.

To briefly recap, there is no need to panic. You should not be throwing your Android device in the nearest fire and running for the hills. Apply a little common sense about what you download and click on. Install a free, highly-rated security app on your device. Sit back and relax without any fear of malware. Everything is going to be fine.

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