Android malware is a potent threat. If any dangerous variant finds its way into your smartphone, it can cause a lot of damage. It can steal your personal information, serve you with an annoying dose of ads, and gulp up your smartphone’s resources.
The most popular deterrent for Android malware is an antivirus app. But are antivirus apps really necessary? Do they protect your Android device from malware? Or do they end up exacerbating the problem and maybe creating a little bit of their own?
How Most Android Antivirus Apps Work
To understand whether or not you need an antivirus app, it’s important to understand how most antivirus apps work. Surprisingly, it’s not as intricate as you might think.
In a 2019 report by AV comparatives, the security research firm detailed a thorough investigation on some of the most popular Android antivirus apps. The conclusion was what a lot of security experts had been suspecting all along—many popular Android antivirus apps do absolutely nothing to scan apps for malicious behavior.
A bulk of the antivirus apps simply use a whitelist to compare against the apps you have installed on your smartphone. Every app that isn’t from a vendor in their whitelist is simply flagged as a potentially malicious app.
Others use a blacklist as well. They scan your phone to see if you have any of the apps on their blacklist installed. Once any are found, they are flagged with a recommendation for uninstallation.
While this may sound useful, from a practical standpoint, it offers very little to no protection. The lists that most of these so-called antivirus apps use to scan your smartphone are typically just not good enough. Because new malicious apps keep springing up, a pre-compiled list of malicious apps is not an effective solution.
According to this Statista report from March of 2020, some 482,579 Android malware samples were being injected into the internet per month. That’s an average of 16,000 malware per day—a number too impractical to keep track of.
This is why even when vendors of these antivirus apps update their lists, it’s just not comprehensive enough. Going by the stats, there are probably thousands of malicious apps that have not yet been exposed at any point in time.
These apps could be wreaking havoc on your phone, and your antivirus app wouldn’t be able to pick up their activities. They end up giving you a false sense of security, ultimately letting you lower your guard.
Your Antivirus App Could Be Hurting Your Android Smartphone
If you have an antivirus app installed on your Android smartphone, a false sense of security might be the least you’ll have to worry about. Most antivirus apps will just sit on your phone, doing nothing but eat up your phone’s resources and negatively impact its performance in many ways.
Because of the use of fancy animations, running in the background, and the deployment of real-time components, antivirus apps can be a drain on your battery. Of course, because they are always running, they’ll also constantly compete with other running apps for RAM.
Depending on which antivirus app you use, the amount of resources being hoarded could grow exponentially, even enough to slow down your phone.
And then there’s the case of false positives. A lot of anti-malware apps sometimes flag legitimate apps as malware. Some go as far as taking action on these presumably malicious apps to “protect the user.”
This is the case for most antivirus apps that actually try to do their job. Others don’t even bother—they go straight to wreaking havoc of their own.
If you downloaded most of the popular antivirus apps made by less reputable vendors, you could be giving malware the keys to the kingdom. Malware disguised as antivirus is typically one of the worst kinds of malware you could fall prey to because of all the permissions and administrator privileges you might have likely granted it.
This enables them to bypass the need to get users to click OK on requests that generally require a user’s permission. Consequently, this allows the malicious antivirus app to constantly run in the background, take rogue actions, and even serve ads. Rather than doing their jobs, some of the antivirus apps in the market are simply causing harm.
Malware Scaremongering by Android Antivirus Vendors
According to Statista, Android is by far the most popular mobile operating system in the world. With a 73% market share, even Apple’s iOS pales in comparison. Being the most popular mobile computing platform comes at a cost. Not a month passes by without some news of Android malware that’s definitely going to wreck your smartphone.
While most of these reports are based on facts, they overemphasize the real risk of picking up this malware. Antivirus app vendors amplify this news, typically painting a picture of a malware pandemic.
In reality, while Android malware remains a potent threat, as long as your security settings are up to date, the possibility of picking up malware is typically lower than you might think. If you’re doing everything right, your Android’s security measures invalidate the need for a third-party anti-malware application.
The Android OS has come a long way from its vulnerable early days. Although it is still the favorite target for malicious apps, Android is, by its very nature, secure enough to keep you safe from the majority of malicious apps if you play by the rules.
Android’s Inbuilt Anti-Malware Features
One of the most significant malware risks to your Android smartphone is fiddling with your Android’s default security rules. Quite a lot of Android users change their security settings, inadvertently leaving room for malicious apps to slip in.
The vast majority of Android malware piggybacks into smartphones through dubious apps. While some of these apps are sometimes sneaked past inspection into the Play Store, Google has a robust system in place to identify and eliminate these kinds of apps.
By default, Android doesn’t allow users to install apps from other sources. If you only install apps from the Play Store, you already have a robust layer of security against malware.
Unfortunately, many people opt to install apps from other sources. To be fair, there are a lot of legitimate reasons you might want to install apps from other sources. However, sticking with only Play Store apps helps you benefit from Google’s robust security checks on apps.
The most devastating malware doesn’t last long on Google’s Play Store, that’s if it somehow found a way to wiggle through. Google routinely scans apps for malware whenever they’re uploaded. There’s also a rigorous human review process in place to scrutinize any app that looks questionable.
From time to time, you might hear of some malware in the Play Store that’s flooding people with ads or harvesting information. Google has sophisticated tools to detect and deal with these threats quickly.
An effective anti-malware app should ideally be able to scan your phone for malicious behavior, boost your phone’s speed, improve privacy measures and protect your data. Much of what is being peddled as anti-malware apps do not do this. On the other hand, the Android OS, backed by security tools like Play Protect, excel at this.
Let Play Protect Keep You Safe
Play Protect is built to combat the latest malware on the loose effectively by using sophisticated algorithms that can learn and adapt to new threats. Because of the level of access it has, it can crisscross the depths of your smartphone to unearth malicious behavior and take necessary actions.
Malicious apps will even be uninstalled from your device without explicitly asking for your permission.
That’s not all. Google’s Play Protect can also monitor your network connections and the URLs you download from and issue warnings whenever a website or other network transmission isn’t safe.
No third-party Android anti-malware app has as much access and resources as Play Protect. According to digital security research firm XYPRO, Google’s Play Protect is probably the single most effective “malicious behavior scanning” app available on Android.
Do You Need Antivirus Software?
The big question is: if the Android OS has most of what it takes to protect your Android smartphone, is it worth risking your device’s security on the promises made by third-party anti-malware vendors?
While there are indeed a handful of quality anti-malware apps on the market from reputable companies, the Android OS comes packed with most of what you’ll need to stay safe. If you have Android antivirus apps on your device right now, delete them if you doubt their genuineness.
Keep your Android device safe and secure with one of these leading Android antivirus apps.
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