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Android Antivirus Apps: Have We Reached The Point Where We Need Them?

Eric McBride
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Android antivirus applications have always been a subject of heavy debate in the tech world, and even with the ongoing threat of malware sometimes found in Android apps, a big majority of users don’t find that having an antivirus app is something that’s needed. Most computer users would never dream of using the internet without having some form of virus protection or security installed, and with our phones and tablets becoming more and more like computers, have we finally reached the point where we actually start need them?

Android Antivirus apps: Opinions from the experts

A recent interview on Digital Trends with experts from Lookout Mobile Security, Avast, and AV-Test shed more light on the issue of Android antivirus protection. Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-Test, stated that while antivirus protection is somewhat important, an all around security app is what more users should actually install:

“Antivirus is usually only one component of the offered Android protection packages,” said Marx. “So a stand-alone AV is not yet required at all times, but it is a good-to-have feature as part of a bigger package. Such packages often include easy-to-use backup features for user’s data, remote wipe in case the phone gets lost, etc”.

Jan Gahura of Avast went on to say, however, that viruses aren’t actually the biggest risk:

“I’d say that the biggest risk is that someone will get access to your device (either you lose your device or it’s stolen). That’s why we have focused on the best anti-theft solution currently available on the market. To have a smartphone in your pocket without a remote wipe possibility is a dangerous thing. It’s even more dangerous than losing keys to your house. Of course someone can steal your private data using a fraudulent application, but that’s certainly the harder way. With avast! Mobile Security, you are shielded from both threats.”

This actually makes a lot of sense. While there are indeed viruses that exist within the Android ecosystem, the threat of someone getting their hands on a stolen or lost device is a scenario that’s much more likely to happen. While malware on Android is certainly an issue that exists, you have to remember that malware is triggered only after the user actually installs it. Andreas Marx of AV-Test stated the following:

“If you only install software from trustworthy market places (like Google Play) and do not use your smartphone very often for web surfing or e-mailing, the OS is still pretty safe. “The majority of problems arise from the installation of ‘cracked’ applications from 3rd party market places which are often bundled with malicious software.”

In other words, if you’re using cracked applications or certain 3rd party markets on Android, or any operating system for that matter, you have a much higher chance of having issues with malware, (and a much bigger need to consider an Android antivirus application). Google Play is very open, and even with Google implementing solutions like Bouncer, malware will always exist. While some would argue that Android as a whole is relatively safe, some feel that Android users have more to worry about than they think. Derek Halliday from Lookout had the following to say on the subject:

“No OS is completely safe, and protection is a requirement across mobile platforms. No matter where you find a critical mass of people, there will always be some bad guys looking for ways to exploit them. Android has exploded in popularity, attracting a lot of consumers in the last few years, so it’s only natural that it’s targeted.“It’s not actually a case of Android being particularly vulnerable – Google has taken some great steps toward protecting people and screens all apps entering Google Play – but the basic programming language is Java, and that’s what makes Android more of a target for the creators of malware.

No special hardware is required – code can be written on a standard PC – so unlike iOS which requires a Mac, Android code writing is readily accessible to a lot of people across the world. This lower barrier to development attracts more bad guys. In the last 12 months, there has been an increase in for-profit malware across all OSs. We’ve seen increasingly sophisticated threats emerging – for the first time ever, we witnessed malware writers targeting the mobile Web via compromised or infected websites with the NotCompatible threat.”

Malware vs Virus

When it comes to Android is particular, most forms of malware focus solely on stealing user data or sending texts to premium numbers, and the folks writing these applications are unfortunately getting better at what they do. Derek went on the say that SMS scams are the biggest threat to all smartphone users, and with the amount of information we keep on our smartphones, hackers can certainly cause lots of headache should they gain access to your device.

Many out there might think that security companies are just in this to make money, as they also have a service they are naturally trying to sell. That being said, we cannot deny that Android malware is a growing issue, and I personally think that we have reached the point to where we should start being more careful with guarding these mini computers that we call smartphones. I personally use Lookout Security & Antivirus as my Android antvirus app, but I don’t keep it running in the background. I simply use it to periodically run checks on my device, as the big majority of the apps I download are from trusted developers.

Conclusion

So whatever you guys do, remember that there are people out there that would love to get their dirty little hands on the information stored on your phone. While I don’t feel that Android is the virus infected OS that many IOS users think it is, I certainly do believe that having no protection whatsoever on the devices we use for so much could bite us in the ass if we’re not more careful in the future.

What do you guys think? Do you have an Android antivirus/malware/security app installed on your device? Do you think they’re necessary?

Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Picture credits: amateur-gadget.blogspot.com

Comments

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  • Patrick R. Oct 9, 2012 Link

    Common sense goes a long way. Yes I have anti virus and anti malware apps - AVG was one of my first app purchases and I always check out new anti virus releases. However, if you are smart about your sources AND check permissions prior to downloading AND updating apps, you are reasonably safe from viruses and malware.

    The android virus and malware situation is a little over blown and over hyped by iOS users when in fact the Apple store is not secure from the most determined, reasonably skilled and patient programer.

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  • Eric McBride Oct 9, 2012 Link

    @Patrick - Your way of thinking is exactly the way I wish more users would think. Use common sense! Look at what your downloading a few secs before pressing the button!

    And yeah...it's not just Android. Any OS can naturally be exploited.

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  • Patrick R. Oct 9, 2012 Link

    @Eric I just realized, I haven't downloaded an app or used an iOS device in years so I wouldn't know, but does apple have something like permissions? Because if they don't then I would in fact argue that Android is SAFER for the user with common sense than a guy who indiscriminately downloads apps from Apple. Last time I usedy iPad, iPhone and iPod touch i had no idea what data and parts of the phone the apps were accessing. So android was a pleasant surprise and that kinda sealed the deal for me.

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  • Eric McBride Oct 9, 2012 Link

    @Patrick - That's a damn good question man...been so long since Ive had my iPhone 4, but I cant remember ever seeing permissions for it.

    Good point!

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  • chinu Oct 9, 2012 Link

    Haven't seen any promising app. Using lookout as well as avast simultaneously.. But the problem is app permissions from the market.... The most worrying thing while installing app.....

    Need a such which will scan an app online before installing from the market.... Coz each country have different app market what I think....

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  • Anna F. Oct 9, 2012 Link

    I used to use Lookout and it never found any kind of malware in my phone but then I read something about Zonar being better and so I downloaded it and when it scanned the device it found 2 Trojan horses. I got rid of lookout immediately and have been using Zonar ever since.

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  • Eric McBride Oct 9, 2012 Link

    WOW. I use Lookout as well. I will give Zonar a try to see if it picks up anything.

    Thanks for the recommendation! :-)

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    DaBartonator Oct 9, 2012 Link

    Zoner is way better than lookout in finding the bad stuff

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  • Dvoraak Oct 10, 2012 Link

    @Patrick and Eric - iOS has permissions. Any app that tries to access the phone's data is stopped with a prompt. There's also a list of apps that have requested data in the settings folder.
    Simple fact is, all the major AV companies are listed in Google Play. None of them are in iTunes app store. Some indy developers have AV apps listed but none of the big guys. With those indy's in mind, Apple's obviously not stopping AV apps from getting in. That all leads to the conclusion that none of the major brands are there because they don't want to put resources into an app development that won't sell..... but they see a demand with Android.

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  • Patrick R. Oct 10, 2012 Link

    @Dvoraak thank you for the clarification. I agree that antivirus would not sell well in iOS considering the sense of security the closed ecosystem and stringent approval process provides. The more paranoid base of android users is indeed a better market in terms of security and anti virus software.

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  • Dvoraak Oct 10, 2012 Link

    @Patrick - Thanks for "paranoid android". Reminds me to catch up on some Radiohead :)

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  • CJ Brown Oct 10, 2012 Link

    Well Trend Micron gave me a free Anti Virus Android App when I purchased the 64 bit version for the Toshiba Satellite laptop, however I never download an App without reviewing it 1st (& I mean more then just looking it up on Google). My concern still remains how much we have to "agree to" upon accepting an App for download (I get weary when any App wants too much personal info) ...

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  • Kyle Gordy Nov 12, 2012 Link

    Reading this crap makes me want to put a condom on my phone... lol... sorry. I just think that the threats are very real and they're going to be bad for developers and advertisers if these safeguards aren't put in place. I do a lot with Airpush and I know people are reacting VERY favorably to Airpush's partnership with Appthority to stop malware from getting into its 50,000 apps or whatever. This is just the beginning, boys and girls! http://blog.airpush.com/how-airpush-is-leading-the-fight-against-mobile-malware/

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