The Truth about Android Malware

The Truth about Android Malware 150 150 Kerry Butters

Android is the most popular mobile operating system in the world. Developing nations are jumping onboard this platform at a fast rate but there are some negatives to consider. Android has a bad reputation when it comes to malicious malware. This is often very dangerous and it can completely wipe a user’s phone and with it their personal details.

There are lots of accounts of harmful malware being discovered in apps and on Android running phones. Malware on Google’s OS seems set to rise and Google has recently begun patching some of the numerous holes in its mobile platform. Mobile malware is up by 700% since 2011 and most of it is destined for the Android OS.

Let’s have a look then at just how insidious this threat is, and what can be done to combat and alleviate its effects.

Android has a malware problem

Any device that has access to the internet is susceptible to malware. It really doesn’t matter what platform you’re on, Windows, Mac, iPhone, and even Blackberry devices are all in danger of attack from malicious code. Being connected to the internet makes any device a target and often an unwitting carrier of harmful code. It’s important to note that Android really is no exception; in fact it’s the platform most likely to be targeted.

Microsoft is aware of this problem and it even ran a #DroidRage campaign. Any user affected by Android malware could partake with the top prize being a device giveaway. It’s common knowledge that Android is easily infected but not every device will be.

Dangerous malware exists and it’s often subversive. However the extreme cases aren’t the rule and Android isn’t inherently susceptible to malware – it’s just more targeted. Google has stringent security measures ensuring that the estimation for malicious malware is low – currently standing at around 0.001%. Most Android users will never encounter malware on their devices.

Google’s security measures

Android is not an uncontrolled world instead it’s a place policed strictly by Google. The tech giant has a number of advanced security tools with layers and layers of protection. Any malware contained in an app or the Google Play store has to sneak past a number of checkpoints. They are:

·         Google Play

·         Unknown Sources Warning

·         Install Confirmation

·         Verify Apps Consent

·         Verify Apps Warning

·         Runtime Security Checks

·         Sandbox and Permissions

Not quite the unchallenged arena that many thought then, Google does everything it can to keep its mobile OS safe and secure for users. There are seven layers of security and as most users don’t have unknown sources enabled, the app won’t make it past the second level.

It’s worth noting however that the Android Store is much freer than Apple’s alternative. Google lets anyone upload and share apps on its platform and the open nature of it means that it’s inherently less secure than iOS. Apple have strict guidelines in place when it comes to app submission which leaves it less open to attack.

Malware authors will always target the easiest platform to infect and in this case, it’s Android.

Apple faces malware problems too

However, the common assumption that malicious malware only exists on Android’s OS is a dangerous one. Smartphone users need to understand that the iPhone also can be infected. The iPhone has the biggest market share when it comes to the smart phone world but Android is disproportionally targeted.  This is perhaps due to the fact that iOS is a much more closed system and users cannot download or install apps from outside sources – unlike Android. However security flaws in iOS are exposed relatively frequently too.

Funnily enough the security firm Symantec recently published a report. In the report it stated that the company had found 387 security holes in iOS. Android on the other hand had only 13. Perhaps worryingly, it was recently discovered that the standard email app in iOS was failing to encrypt email attachments properly. This left huge scope for hackers to expose this flaw and lift users sensitive data.

Then there’s the option of jailbreaking an iPhone. It’s become pretty much a one-click process and there are a growing number of iPhone users desiring access to 3rd party market places like the Cydia Store. This presents a new sphere of problems; free from Apple itself, but a danger to everyday users. Data is becoming harder and harder to protect on devices running straight out of the box, or even those that are customised by the user themselves.

The problem seems to be a lack of awareness. You have to actively protect your data and it really doesn’t matter what platform you’re on – don’t click on links that you don’t explicitly trust.

Research your security software

It seems likely that many people reading this will want to install some security applications on their device to negate much of the danger posed by malicious malware. But that’s exactly what many security companies want users to feel. The malware problem, coupled with the fact that it’s well known means that there are now opportunities for disreputable security companies to exploit. There are loads of good apps out there and most of the best ones don’t even cost money.

Here are some to avoid:

·         Norton/McAfee: You’re likely to have come across these services before on your PC. But for a mobile device these apps are completely unnecessary. You don’t need these apps.

·         NQ Mobile: This app has good reviews in the Play Store but there have been fraud accusations in the past. An app to be wary of and again one that you don’t need.

·         Paid Apps: Remember, Android is very secure on its own. Any money spent on security apps is probably just a waste. However if you do want security apps there are some to consider.

Note that Apple say that there is no security software available in the App Store for iOS as it’s unnecessary.

Most companies are trying to exploit users on the Android marketplace and provide them with security applications that they don’t need and requiring them to pay for it too. This isn’t the case with all security software however. Here are some to consider.

·         360 Mobile Security

·         Avast

·         Lookout Security and Antivirus

How to avoid malware

Effectively, the best advice to give users of the Android platform (or any mobile platform) is to read. Be smart and considered and don’t just download applications on a whim. Here are some brief and basic guidelines to help you stay safe on Android’s OS:

·         Read the reviews on the Google Play Store – other users have been there before.

·         Only download from trusted sources

·         Read the permissions before you click accept on an app installation

·         Talk to other users on the Android forums

There’s no guarantee, and there’s always the unlucky chance that you’ll end up with malware on your device. But it’s only 0.001% of applications that are infected. Be smart and remember: Android is as safe (if not safer) as iOS. The myths however about malicious malware will continue to circulate if left unchecked. Android is a good mobile OS and one that you can enjoy safely as long as you remain smart about it.