“Antivirus” as a buzzword has been on the slide over the last decade. Fifteen to twenty years ago it was virally popular, but times have changed and operating systems have become largely self-sufficient when it comes to security.
But what about Android? The relatively new platform has had its share of scares over the years, but now, with years of security improvements under its belt, does Android really need all those “antivirus” apps promising round-the-clock protection? We’re here to tell you.
What Kind of Android User Are You?
Android is a vast ecosystem that’s built its reputation on its relative openness compared to something like iOS. You can download apps and APKs from anywhere, you can root your device and overhaul it with a different Android-based operating system. The more adventurous you are as an Android user, the more likely you are to cause your device harm, but you probably already know that and take the necessary precautions.
One thing to be wary of, for example, is downloading apps (APKs) from outside the Play Store. (To do this you need to “Allow Unknown sources” from your phone’s settings.)
Once you’re downloading APKs from third-party sites, the protections in the Play Store can’t help you, and you’re on your own. Unless you’re absolutely confident about the source of your non-Play Store apps, you should consider an Android antivirus app to provide that extra protection.
Google Play Store Isn’t 100% Safe
Android has grown into a pretty tightly secure OS over the years. Alongside a constant stream of incremental improvements, in 2017 Google introduced Play Protect which uses machine learning to scan the Play Store for malicious apps and purges them.
Play Protect also scans apps locally on your device. You can run a scan manually by going to the Play Store app, selecting “My apps & games,” then under “Updates” tapping the “Refresh” icon near the top of the screen.
Play Protect is a great feature, but it’s not completely watertight, and it’s rare that half a year goes by without a story about some kind of malicious apps on the Google Play Store. Just last year several apps – posing as alarm clocks and QR code scanners – containing the AsiaHitGroup Trojan were discovered on the Play Store, but not before tens of thousands of users downloaded them.
This particular Trojan executes payloads which eventually trick the user into granting complete access to the phone, essentially ceding control of all your personal data.
Earlier this year researchers at Trend Micro discovered thirty-six apps posing as security software which actually installed malware on devices, constantly throwing up false security alerts while raking in big revenue from the ads they’re supported by. These apps also tended to request permissions of large amounts of user data, which we can surmise would be used in ways you’d much rather it wasn’t.
Then there’s the matter of how slow and fragmented the Android update process is. While stock Android phones are always at the forefront of OS security updates, other Android manufacturers have been known to get such updates days or even weeks later.
So What Should You Do?
The simplest advice to give is “Don’t download apps if you’re not sure what they are.” Malicious apps are far and away the biggest threat to your Android security, so you should always double-check the legitimacy of your app before you download it. Has it received the “Editor’s Choice” award on the Play Store? If so, it’s definitely fine. Is it from a reputable developer? Does it have good ratings? What are people on Reddit and online forums saying about it?
Implementing the above approach, I’ve never felt the need to download a third-party antivirus. However, if you’re still afraid that you might download something you shouldn’t, then we already know that Android’s defences aren’t guaranteed to protect. In that case, an Android antivirus app might be just what you need.
And where do you find one of these? By looking at our list of the best Android antivirus apps, of course! All of those listed should provide that extra layer of protection on top of what’s already there. Each of those apps is filled with all manner of ‘bonus’ features, like ad-block, website scanning and so on, so you can pick one depending on whether you want more or less of these extras.