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8 min read 49 comments

Is antivirus software necessary for Android?

We are often asked whether antivirus apps for Android are necessary, and for good reason. Apple has tried hard to discredit Android as a virus-infested swamp of malware and there have been several high-profile Android security threats. Android has a tarnished reputation for security and viruses. But is this justified? Would Android users benefit from antivirus apps? 

Not according to Android security chief Adrian Ludwig. Just prior to the Google I/O developer conference earlier this year, Ludwig told reporters: "Do I think the average user on Android needs to install [antivirus apps]? Absolutely not. I don’t think 99 percent plus of users get a benefit from [anti-virus apps]." 

Ludwig also claimed that the threat posed by Android malware has been "overstated".

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Just how real are the threats on Android? / © ANDROIDPIT

So where does this leave us? If the chief security engineer for Android says it ain't a problem, suggesting antivirus companies are just trying to sell their products, then should we be concerned? Maybe. Security companies and antivirus app developers would respond by saying Google is simply trying to downplay the flaws in its own Play Store. But let's back up a step.

What are Android viruses?

A virus is a type of malicious software (malware) program, the likes of which have been infecting our PCs for decades. As the Android platform has developed and became more widely used, so too has the number of potential threats to the system. Viruses don't actually infect Android, because they don't self-replicate, but the term gets used nonetheless.

Security reports – usually from antivirus and security companies – regularly tell us that the threats are on the rise. Whether you believe these reports or, like Ludwig, think they're simply trying to scare you into installing an app, it's a good idea to know as much as you can about Android viruses and where they come from.

AndroidPIT Nexus 6 security malware
There are many ways that viruses or malware can get onto your phone. / © ANDROIDPIT

Where does Android malware come from?

The Google Play Store is the largest target for this type of malware and scams, because it is the mainline delivery system for content onto your phone. The sheer volume of apps uploaded (and downloaded) per day, along with the lack of comprehensive policing, makes it an easy target.

But there are plenty of other delivery mechanisms for viruses and malware. Emails with attachments – much like the ones you get on your PC – or MMSs that get automatically downloaded, hacks on popular apps such as WhatsApp, phishing scams, fake apps, APKs you've installed manually (outside of the Play Store) or clicking suspect download links, among others.

kaspersky mobile malware 2016
Distribution of mobile malware by type / © Kaspersky

What is the risk of malware and viruses?

The security threat malware poses to your device varies. In some cases, it will simply send ads to your smartphone, which is annoying but not exactly dangerous. At other times, rogue software can imitate sites or apps you normally trust, tricking you into giving up your password or credit card details.

"Do I think the average user on Android needs to install [antivirus apps]? Absolutely not" – Android Security Engineer, Adrian Ludwig

One of the most common security risks is in apps from the Play Store that pose as reputable apps – you know the ones: they usually have the exact same name and icon as the real one.

Once installed, these sketchy ripoff apps reveal their true purpose and either send text messages to premium phone numbers, attempt to open back doors to hackers or otherwise make you and your phone more vulnerable through nefarious means. 

AndroidPIT Lollipop Settings Security Unknown Sources
You are the biggest threat: disabling security features, installing unofficial apps, etc. / © ANDROIDPIT

How do I know if I have been affected by malware?

Often you won’t be able to tell if your smartphone is under threat, or if you are about to download something potentially harmful. What's worse is that, once you are affected, you frequently won't even know it, unless an unusually high credit card bill comes in or your phone starts acting strangely. The dumbest thing a hacker can do is let you know you've been hacked, after all.

Besides installing an Android antivirus app and running a scan, there's not much more you can do without a Masters degree in computer science. The best defense is a good offense, though, so the best approach is to have good habits in the first place. Fortunately, when a malware scandal is big enough, the patch is usually widely known and applied.

However, you're arguably at more risk of losing your phone without adequate protection (lock screen security or a remote wipe option) than you are of having your phone affected negatively by a virus or malware.

androidpit android phones confused
You usually won't know you're affected by malware until things start going wrong. / © ANDROIDPIT

What are antivirus apps?

Antivirus apps are a method of identifying threats to your handset. There are hundreds of antivirus apps available for free from the Google Play Store, and discerning which are best is difficult (AV-Test, an independent security institute, compile a league table every few months of the best antivirus apps for Android, should you be interested).

Antivirus apps for Android work in a similar way to the antivirus software you would find on your PC. Once installed, you can use them to scan the files on your phone for sneaky software you may have inadvertently downloaded, and the antivirus app will highlight any problems.

Unlike Windows or Mac-based antivirus software, however, Android antivirus apps do not automatically remove harmful software for you – you have to do this manually once they have been identified. Not all virus definitions are up-to-date and not all antivirus apps have the same features. The good news is that they quite often provide a lot of added features that can be really useful, such as backup solutions and remote wipe features.

avast screen 3
Premium version of antivirus apps usually come with extra features © ANDROIDPIT

How much do antivirus apps cost?

It varies. There are often free and paid-for versions of the same apps, but in most cases the vital functionality is available in the free version.

Paid or pro versions feature the same core functionality but add some of the useful additional features I mentioned above, such as remote lock and wipe, backup options, ad blocking and more.

Should I install a free security app?

Well, some people (me included) debate whether antivirus apps offer any discernable benefit to your device. These security apps cannot protect you from a lack of common sense. In fact, most of the protection they offer only comes into effect once you’ve already fallen victim to malware.

Most of the protection antivirus apps offer only comes into effect once you've already fallen victim to malware

The vast majority of malware is gleaned from the Google Play Store, but many of the simple security risks can be avoided just by being sensible (you may already be aware of these if you read my article on app permissions). Likewise, don't install unverified APKs from outside Google Play, be wary of attachments from email addresses you don't trust, don't randomly click download links and so on.

If you do choose to install an antivirus app, be aware that they commonly consume a lot of battery, take up disk space, annoy you with notifications and reduce processing speed. Naturally, how they affect your system depends on how you use them, but the vast majority of Android users will never encounter any security threats or see any need to clog up their system with antivirus apps.

smartphone security
Anything you deem necessary to protect your Android is worth doing, even if only for peace of mind. / © ANDROIDPIT

So what does this all mean?

The simple truth is, thieves, hackers, bandits and hoodlums will try to exploit anything; it is inevitable that a platform with over a billion active users will become a target. Can scams, viruses trojans et al be avoided by sensible use of your smartphone? In most cases, yes. Does this mean we don’t need antivirus software? That's really up to you to decide.

As long as you’re careful on the Play Store, downloading apps or data from known and reputable sources, you should remain protected on Android. But why risk it? Threats to Android devices are becoming more and more common. I’d even recommend downloading software just to run a scan every once in a while and then removing it again.

Regardless of whether antivirus apps are ineffective or Google is just trying to sweep a growing problem under the rug, I recommend you take any precaution you deem necessary to stay safe. 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, that's worth something.

Do you have antivirus apps on your Android? Have you ever been affected by malware? Share your experiences in the comments. 



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  • As a student of 3 years attaining my bachelor's and "masters in Computer Science" I can assure you an anti-malware software of some sort is very important. This is in regards to Windows, Mac, Android, and even legacy Linux systems in some cases. Being cautious about your methods are very important but with the amount of exploits for almost any form of programming, millions of forms of malware being created, the NSA, and the fact that only 1-2% of all desktop and mobile users have the most up to date software and firmware I'd say everyone needs a reputable (AV Test) anti-virus. And that's just one minor step to protect yourself. You need anti-tracking software, anti-hijacking, cloud protection if possible. You need to use VPN's to mask your location and IP for malware injection (Even if you have a good ISP). You need to also disable marketing and tracking features with Google, Microsoft, and Apple. You need to use email and text messaging with end to end encryption and you need to use strong passwords that vary with different networks. Also never input your real numbers or names if possible. And never spread your DL, SS, or even birthday across the net. Do this and you make yourself much less of a target. This post would be over 1000 pages if I truly went over everything but simply following these steps and this blogs steps (except for the no antivirus part) will make most of you malware-free.

    • Masa 8 months ago Link to comment

      Virus on Android is basically just an app you install from playstore or apk's. It can't automatically installed on your phone. To remove virus you just have to find which app you supect contain 'virus' and uninstall it from apps list on setting.

  • "Do I think the average user on Android needs to install [antivirus apps]? Absolutely not" Blatant, unapologetic lie. Not only did I get a virus, I also lost my tablet. It's dead. Hard-bricked. And you know what? I was browsing the Internet! And was cautious! Google only thinks about getting money. And how do you get money? By breaking tablets, that's how! It wasn't the first one. But it was a first attack that completely broke my tablet. Guys, if you care about your devices, don't listen to any of those guys. Download an antivirus. Just do it, for your own safety.

    • Don't tablets have an option to be restored back to factory settings? I have never used a tablet. However, having infected my own Android phone with some speed boosting app which was hidden and therefore was impossible to uninstall, I had to lose all the data by resetting it to the factory settings. Hard learned lesson, and the app came from Google Play Store!

      • Well, I've almost got my phone hard-bricked. Restored it after a specific time by the power of GOD.
        Quora had a discussion about how to restore your phone after an infection. They said that if a virus have gotten into the system files, the only way to restore your phone is flashing a custom ROM through a bootloader. That means that there is a possibility that you'll get one of these. Mine was just a mocking jokey.

  • Not needed if the only source for apps is the Play Store. I don't want or have a commercial "credit card identity" relationship with snoopy Google, only a nonsense Gmail address, and sideload apps purchased elsewhere. While I think they're good sources, the security scanner automatically confirms an app is clean. No AV deserves brand loyalty - best to check credible lab test roundups in the tech press. My standing beef with Android is the ridiculous failure to control security updating for all devices running a currently supported OS, as Apple and Microsoft do. While Android is brilliant, the idea of leaving security to OEMs and telcos was a stupid mistake from the get-go, and third party AV helps to mitigate it.

  • Coming from years of using windows based PC's, it's only natural to think you may need one. Fight the feeling! They really do take up resources, and annoy you, with notifications, them trying to take over sometimes. At one time, I've used lookout, avg, avast, and have seen battery hits. Some are persistent in wanting you to install more features of their apps. I haven't used a antivirus app in a good while, and no, you don't need one. Just have common sense, and read up on what your going to put on your phone, do your homework first.

  • Thank's for good news...

  • thanks good news

  • If the antivirus app can't remove the malware, how do you actually get rid of it?

    • jukaro Jul 11, 2017 Link to comment

      I think the app will report the malware and you need to manually delete it

      • Some of them are hidden though. I have just tried to uninstall some app I have stupidly installed. It created an overlay on my screen. I can only guess it was a phishing app. Tried to look it up in the Apps page, but it was not there. However I could see that the app was still running. They are becoming much more crafty.

  • KEVIN Feb 4, 2016 Link to comment

    This is actually true , you don't need antivirus on android. for 3 years until now I never experienced virus. my phone is rooted for a long time and without antivirus.

  • im use 360 security... so far no dubt about it. It's work fine for my phone..

  • for me 360 security is the best.... well i guessssss.

  •   18
    Deactivated Account Dec 9, 2015 Link to comment

    Yes, I am using Avast Mobile Security. It works well. I am using smart phone from last 4 years but till now nothing happened. It is good to use your device responsibly. Even I had some misconception about Anti Virus before reading this article. Now everything is crystal clear. Time to free some space in my phone.

    Thank you Scott.

    • D. L. Jun 4, 2017 Link to comment

      You should take a look at Sophos free AV app. Tons of features, top rated. And more importantly, ad free.

  • storm Dec 8, 2015 Link to comment

    For a user who uses mainstream reliable sites and only ever uses the Google Play store, they're probably OK with out AV. People who, sideload questionable apps, surf and download less than savory content and such would be wise to use AV. If you root and do any of those things AV is a necessity.

    There have been some instances of infected ads, but the rate is low enough for now that I don't consider this worth the performance hit of AV.

  • I've never really had a big issue with security on my phone. I've gone on without a security app to help protect my phone for a while and my phone still reacts as if it was the day I bought it. It wasn't till just recently I came across the "360 Security" app, I read up on the app and what it does for the phone.. I was curious on how my phone was performing I trusted the app and downloaded it, and honestly it's actually helping with the life of my battery and the smooth function of my phone.. I scanned the phone and cleaned everything up, it works pretty good. This is probably my first security app I've downloaded. I have friends that have androids and never have I heard them speak about viruses or malware, even apple user I never heard them say anything about viruses either. Phones now-a-days are so advanced it's getting harder and harder to try and hack them. #teamandroid

  • A'm not paranoid for virus and trojan one Android,but i use "Mcafee" 

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