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Malware on Android - a myth or real threat

Posted: , by Ray S.

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Malware on Android - a myth or real threat

Malware on the rise

We're hearing about this almost every day - there's malware on Android, and it's easy to get your device infected. Reports coming from security companies are painting a troubling picture - with each quarter, there are more and more Android programs designed to conquer our devices, take control, steal information or secretly dial premium numbers. The goals of the so-called malware can be most various, but one thing is common for them all - they won't do you any good. But no matter how many reports we get, we can't help but wonder how big of a threat this really is. Should we be worried about it, or should we just ignore? Before we begin our exploration through the supposedly infected lands of Android, it's always good to have a general understanding of what malware is.

Malware, short for malicious (or malevolent) software, is software used or created by attackers to disrupt computer operation, gather sensitive information, or gain access to private computer systems. It can appear in the form of code, scripts, active content, and other software. 'Malware' is a general term used to refer to a variety of forms of hostile or intrusive software.

That's a rather general, yet very true definition we found at Wikipedia. Having in mind that our smartphones have every right to call themselves computers, the above definition works perfectly well for us. Apparently, the most common purpose of malware is to steal sensitive information, or gain access to things you normally wouldn't let your wife have access to. So, now that we know what we're dealing with, let's see if there's really a reason to worry. Let's start by taking a look at some statistics!

Malware on Android - a myth or real threat
According to the chart by Kaspersky on the right, there's been a rapid growth in the number of malware applications for Android with every consecutive quarter. With Android's popularity still expanding, there's no reason to believe this trend has changed. Quite the contrary, security firm Kaspersky believes that going forward, malicious Android software will not only become more, but also more effective and dangerous. What does that mean? Well, cyber-criminals will get better at extracting information like contact numbers, e-mail addresses, log-in details, and, the ultimate goal of all malevolent hackers, credit card details.

Actually, the results of every hacker attack may be different depending on the state of your Android phone and the information that's stored onto it. Sometimes, the attackers might really get access to credit card details, while other times they may simply steal money from you by managing to install software that would make your phone dial premium numbers, send text messages, etc. And while most of the people reading this now are probably thinking that there's no chance they would allow such things to happen on their phone, we should note that the most likely victims of malware are the less educated users. The bad thing is that by "less educated" here we don't mean those who can't tell us the "10 things that make Android the greatest platform of all," we mean those who simply do not take special interest in the way technology works. The most vulnerable users are those who don't see or understand technology the way tech-savvy people do. As you can guess, this kind of people is actually the biggest group of users of every platform, including Android, which is now so widespread there really can't be a profile of the 'typical Android user'.

So, having this in mind, we can all agree that there is a potential threat in that whole malware thing. However, we still haven't determined just how big that threat is.

Horror stories

On the opposite side of the security companies and those supporting their views are those users who aren't willing to belive that there's anything to worry about. These users often say that the major part of all Android malware comes from places outside of the Play Store, so if you just stick to Google's official source of third-party software, you'll be fine. This is partly true, of course, though the very reason why some go for Android is the possibility to do whatever you want with the device. After all, that is what the words "free" and "open" are all about here - sideload whatever you wish, pay for apps, don't pay for apps, get all kinds of stuff from the internet... The thing is if you live that kind of "free" mobile lifestyle some day you'll will probably encounter a piece of malware, willing to do its thing inside your smartphone. And with a bit of bad luck, you might be too late to stop it. Does this mean we should get panicked and think of Android as an insecure platform? Absolutely not.

Malware on Android - a myth or real threat
Microsoft has this campaign called "Droid Rage". They are asking people on Twitter to share their "Android malware horror stories," and in return, they award some of the best ones with "get well" presents, which this year are expected to be Windows Phone 8 handsets. There shouldn't be any doubt here that Microsoft is simply trying to scare people away from Android by drawing attention to the malware problem. Still, even though it's undeniable that there is more malware for Android than there's for any other modern platform, to call those cases "horror stories" is definitely too much. Sure, there's probably a small number of people for whom the consequences have been quite unpleasant, but when you compare that to the many millions of Android devices our there, it just can't convince us that there's something serious to worry about. In a typical scenario, if one is to accidentally install a malware application on their phone, they can quickly resolve the situation by uninstalling the app and then being extra careful about the stuff they install. In this line of thought, Microsoft's "horror stories" are mainly exaggerations of people who simply don't know what they are doing with their handsets or computers.

Anti-malware applications

But as we said earlier, the group of people who aren't really sure what they are doing when they are working with a smartphone or other more complex device, isn't small at all. As a matter of fact, it's quite big, so we do think that it won't be useless if we offer some means of protection. There are a few security applications that users can install in order to ensure that their handset will stay free of malware. Personally, we do not think that such kind of protection is needed in case you absolutely understand what's happening when you're using your mobile device. After all, having constant protection means wasting precious system resources and battery life, and we aren't willing to sacrifice even the smallest amounts of those.

Still, if one does feel unsure about the state of their device, it's probably wiser to install some kind of security app. Some of the better ones include Lookout Mobile Security, Norton Mobile Security, Kaspersky Mobile Security and avast! Mobile Security. These are usually full security packages that will not only provide standard anti-malware protection but will also feature additional tools like remote lock/wipe and others. Once again, we don't consider such measures reasonable at this time, if the user is an educated one, but non-tech-savvy people may actually benefit from installing such a program.

Take it easy

Malware on Android is definitely not a myth. However, it's also not the horror some would like you to think it is. We can't deny that there has been a considerable number of malware victims, but it's also undeniable that the consequences for the bigger part of them have been minor. At the end of the day, if there's one rule that will safely get you through Android land uninfected, it is that if you aren't particularly informed about this kind of technology and the risks surrounding it, it's best to stick to getting your apps from the Play Store, and take your time to read their descriptions and user reviews carefully. If there's anything that seems suspicious, it's best to avoid this particular app.

Even then, one can't take the time to read each and ever description or user review, and there are more and more cases of apps that manage to steal money or info from you using most creative ways. It would mostly be an overstatement to say that we're in for a future filled with dangerous pieces of code looking to get to the critical data we keep on our personal phones, but it'll also be pretty foolish to just ignore the warnings. Maybe the dire predictions of security companies are going to come true some day, and we'll all have to take special measures to secure our mobile devices (just the way we do it with our computers today), but thankfully, this day is yet to come. For now, all we need to avoid Android malware and the dangers it poses is to keep our eyes opened.

Let us hear you what you think then. It'll be interesting to know if any of you guys have ever had the displeasure of installing an infected app on your Android devices. How did you manage to resolve the situation? Share your experiences with us in the comments below!

  • Options

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 07:23 13

1. wendygarett (unregistered)

I always love to read Ray's article :)
Keep up the good work!!!

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 09:09 3

20. loyals (Posts: 129; Member since: 10 Nov 2012)

really nice article ...but android seems working on its malware but it's kinda wild as they were desperate to add apps before to beat ios apps n they end up with malware. bb10 is gonna rock the world with its security and apps . all the way to bb10 next time

posted on 06 Dec 2012, 02:55 2

70. CellieCell (Posts: 121; Member since: 14 Apr 2010)

I'm on my 15th google device since day one. not once have I experienced any malicious activity nor fraudulent activities with my google play account! but that doesn't mean it doesn't exist. maybe I'm just lucky or one smart user who avoided going through the incidents by downloading trusted apps. :)

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 09:34 6

24. Ray.S (Posts: 329; Member since: 19 Jul 2011)


posted on 05 Dec 2012, 10:53 5

30. Synack (Posts: 677; Member since: 05 Jul 2011)

Good article BUT... I have never ever ever heard of a single person that god hacked, malware, or anything. I've been on Android since 2009 and I've talked with a lot of people across many different forums and in real life. It may not be a myth, but it certainly doesn't happen anywhere near what Apple and Microsoft are portraying to be.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 11:15 6

36. Ray.S (Posts: 329; Member since: 19 Jul 2011)

It's certainly not a myth. I know people who have had trouble with malware on Android. But of course, I don't think it's as bad as Apple or Microsoft are saying. Security companies are also trying to create as much fear as possible. It's certainly not that bad, but it's there.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 11:19 2

38. sorcio46 (Posts: 435; Member since: 27 Jul 2011)

You are the only person that i have heard that knows people that get troubles with malware on Android, and sorry but I don't trust you.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 15:27 3

48. androiddownsouth (Posts: 598; Member since: 02 May 2012)

In my line of work as an agent location manager for Verizon, I've seen customers come in that had viruses on their phones. It does happen. It is very rare, but it does happen, and is certainly not a myth.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 21:32 2

61. Mxyzptlk (Posts: 12979; Member since: 21 Apr 2012)

He's a P.A. writer and you have a very biased and a flame baiting avatar along with the comments. you're questioning his legitimacy?

Malware on Android happens. Denying it doesn't erase it.

posted on 23 Dec 2012, 16:16 1

84. Forsaken77 (Posts: 553; Member since: 09 Jun 2011)

He's also a blatant iPhone lover. Just because someone is a PA writer doesn't mean they're free of bias. While I'm glad that the article may bring knowledge to the uninformed, I can't help but think that the reason Ray posted it was to bring negative attention to Android. His articles are mostly positive for Apple, negative for Android.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 19:02 2

55. jroc74 (Posts: 6005; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)

I agree. Its happens, but its not like I go 23 hours a day with malware running rampant on my phone every day.

The only malware I really had came from my kids just willy nilly downloading apps, so it did come from the Play Store. And it wasnt too bad, it was sending me ads in the noticification shade and wouldnt let me remove the icon from my home page. I just basically uninstalled any apps my kids installed and all was well.

All this was with no security. And I still havent installed any security. It really isnt as bad as MS and some others make it.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 11:14 5

34. blazee (Posts: 407; Member since: 02 Jan 2012)

Ray if youre gonna get at android for having malware issues, you should at least provide the names of the so called infected apps in google play. also if windows wants ro hear horror stories of an os , they shoukd look into the history of internet explorer

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 22:00 2

64. rusticguy (Posts: 2828; Member since: 11 Aug 2012)

No. If it is on Android merely shooting in the dark is considered sufficient evidence. Oh Windows? Look at this --

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 07:31 21

2. sorcio46 (Posts: 435; Member since: 27 Jul 2011)

Malware on Android is a myth, only if too dumb to take .apk outside the Play store you could get it (and you deserve it by taking pirate apps). Plus with the new protection system offered by Android 4.2 and the security level increased by Android 4.1, we are 99.9% safe.

Another point, what here in Android is called "malware" in iOS is called "app" ;-)

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:29 2

13. eddo85 (Posts: 11; Member since: 03 Dec 2012)

i totally agree with you. biggest problem is that more or less no phone has 4.2
... damn you touchwiz, sense....

posted on 06 Dec 2012, 14:40

75. viper1983 (Posts: 36; Member since: 03 Aug 2012)

Oh yeah, iOS is just loaded with more malware than Android

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 07:35 5

3. XPERIA-KNIGHT (unregistered)

Nice article Ray :)

Great way to combat the "exaggeration" out there......O and hey everyone srry i been gon for a bit due to service being briefly off :( but im back

Hope things have been going good here

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 07:59 2

7. wendygarett (unregistered)

Well, good to see you have knight lol :)

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 09:19

22. loyals (Posts: 129; Member since: 10 Nov 2012)

there wasnt ny exaggeration there bro , only people who couldnt digest the fact that there phone is full of malware n all their data is in some hackers hd safely

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 10:56 1

31. Whateverman (Posts: 3262; Member since: 17 May 2009)

Did you even read the article? Obviously not.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 07:36 2

4. RaKithAPeiRiZ (Posts: 1488; Member since: 29 Dec 2011)

its not a big threat ,since all platforms have some sort of surveillance spyware in them

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 07:54 3

5. phil2n (Posts: 487; Member since: 30 Apr 2012)

malware is normal for an OS. not a big issue for me

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 07:58 3

6. taz89 (Posts: 2014; Member since: 03 May 2011)

stick to play store and you will be fine...just like anything in life if you try to get things from unofficial sources you have a higher chance of having issues and you only have yourself to blame

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:02 2

8. XPERIA-KNIGHT (unregistered)

I said it before........you gotta do something you're not suppose to in order to get something you don't want :(

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:07 1

9. basicfull (Posts: 4; Member since: 05 Dec 2012)

There are apps on the play store that do things you do not want. And that does not have to do with "something you're not suppose to".

There are apps that do soemthing as simple as place icons on your home screens to other apps or web pages that you don't want or care about. Uninstalling the infringing app does not remove the icons placed on your screens and must be deleted manually.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:14

11. XPERIA-KNIGHT (unregistered)

well of course....but the subject is about unwanted malware....and while i agree with those things you talked about i will say that I personally have never been threatened from malware by what you stated above neither have i been threatened "at All" by any form of malware........

What I "really" meant by that comment is that people must be doing somthing that is REALLY NOT advised in order to get something they REALLY don't want...

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 22:40

67. taz89 (Posts: 2014; Member since: 03 May 2011)

google uses a sandboxed method for apps so your phone will only be infected aslong as that app is installed and the moment that app is removed the malware etc itself is removed...the only things that will be the same are things that may have gotten changed like say if a malware changed your internet homepage then that will remain the same

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:08 6

10. Thephonegeek (Posts: 118; Member since: 22 Nov 2012)

I have never seen any Android user to complain about Malware in real life.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:31 5

14. darkkjedii (Posts: 21214; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

I'd say more myth than threat, but a small threat exists. The one malicious app I downloaded was a free live galaxy wallpaper app. It invaded my contact list and urged them to download the same app. Watch out for those free wallpaper apps.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:52 1

17. XPERIA-KNIGHT (unregistered)

I guess thats where the free virus protector app, "look out" comes in right?

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:55

18. tedkord (Posts: 11653; Member since: 17 Jun 2009)

I've never undersold why people download wallpaper apps. Its so easy to set and picture as your wallpaper. I've had dozens of wallpapers. All were simple jpegs I downloaded to the phone.

They're not live wallpapers, but I've never seen the point of those at all.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 09:17 1

21. darkkjedii (Posts: 21214; Member since: 05 Feb 2011)

After a while I stopped using them all together.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:48

15. F5AllMobileWebsite (Posts: 5; Member since: 04 Dec 2012)

every time when i check out my friends android n then i saw an antivirus app running. i told them to uninstall it :)

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 08:51 5

16. shuaibhere (Posts: 1986; Member since: 07 Jul 2012)

Uneducated users don't even know that there are apps available for android outside play store....so it isn't a big thread....

But yea...half knowledge is always dangerous.....

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 09:23 3

23. squeeb (Posts: 99; Member since: 02 Dec 2011)

Never been infected in 3+ years of android usage. I've flashed multiple phones, and used plenty of side loaded apps over that time.

Just like on the PC, this generally happens to people who don't know what they're doing.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 09:35 6

25. networkdood (Posts: 6330; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)

NOt a myth, but it is hyped to scare people needlessly.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 09:35 4

26. dragonscourgex (Posts: 307; Member since: 16 Jan 2012)

I have to admit that I kinda shook my head when I seen Ray wrote this one, but I think you hit this topic right on. Good read. I agree that most problem come from the lack of the user and not of the platform. When friend and family tell me that they have viruses on their computers, i usually just tell them to stop clicking on every damn thing that pops up on the internet.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 15:33

49. androiddownsouth (Posts: 598; Member since: 02 May 2012)

I know right? lol that would fix 99.9% of the issues I'd bet!

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 10:33 4

29. darac (Posts: 2156; Member since: 17 Oct 2011)

Has anyone ever heard Google lowly bashing any other OS?

But for Microsoft and Apple.. disgusting and pathetic ucompetitive behavior is the way to go

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 11:06 1

32. Aeires (unregistered)

Fragmentation comments got old so they switched to malware instead. No idea what they'll come up with next when malware gets old.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 12:04

41. fins71 (Posts: 17; Member since: 29 Oct 2012)

Fragmentation obviously wasnt scary enough to keep people from using Android. Fragmentation is really just a matter of choice. If a budget Android phone is what you need, so be it. My old HTC Hero on 2.1 works just fine still today. I'm not giving up my Note2 though. Scaring people about malware was the obvious next step to try to discourage people from using Android. I've never had a malware problem, or anyone I know either. Fact remains is it can only be put there by allowing it to be installed by the user. Common sense is everyone's friend. MS is really one to talk about malware.lol... Everyone with a laggy pc experience always curses MS. Those are the only malware horror stories I've ever heard of.

posted on 06 Dec 2012, 07:16

73. Aeires (unregistered)

Agreed. I've been using Android since the G1 and never had it occur on any of my 7 Android phones I've had. People don't understand fragmentation, but thanks to years of Windows viruses, everyone understand malware so it's an effective tactic for FUD.

posted on 07 Dec 2012, 11:28

77. ZayZay (Posts: 571; Member since: 26 Feb 2011)


posted on 05 Dec 2012, 12:20 1

42. ilia1986 (unregistered)

Excellent article! :)

As someone who side-loaded more than 50% of all installed apps from blackmart - I've yet to encounter any malware at all. The biggest "threat" seems to be developers which let bugs sneak in into their legitimate apps.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 13:20

43. RORYREVOLUTION (Posts: 3108; Member since: 12 Jan 2010)

Can you honestly answer to how many REAL reports of viruses and hacks people have reported since android came to be years ago? Other than Norton and other anti virus companies trying to scare you into buying their products. How many real people have actually been harmed by this? I have been using android for 3 years now, have used more android phones then I can count and I have never had any issues.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 13:23

44. carlos5593 (Posts: 28; Member since: 23 Jun 2012)

so, how much did Microsoft paid you to not only make this article, but to put it on the home page? i have been using Android for the last 4 years and never encounter any malware. and one more thing iI never even used any antivirus on any of devices. and I've owned about 15 android phones and tablets.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 14:09 1

46. kagos (Posts: 2; Member since: 05 Dec 2012)

I'll narrate microsoft a nice horror story..let them send their windows 8 phone....i'll run android on it...

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 14:27

47. yowanvista (Posts: 340; Member since: 20 Sep 2011)

That good old faked 'malware' term, Any Apps including rogue ones have ZERO access the the low level system resources and can hence cause NO damage to the operating system or any other Apps. The blame lies on the foolish users who download so called faked ' Angry Birds Pro' Apps.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 15:52

50. Stuntman (Posts: 836; Member since: 01 Aug 2011)

What can these security apps really do to protect you from malware? From my understanding, the Android OS is pretty secure and does not allow apps to mess with other apps, so to speak. If this is the case, how can security apps stop malware that has gotten on my phone? I really question what security apps can really do to protect me. If I have a security app on my phone and then download a malware app and run it, what can a security app do to stop it? Doesn't Android protect the malware app from the security app?

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 17:01

53. yowanvista (Posts: 340; Member since: 20 Sep 2011)

Security Apps are all useless on Android since all Apps including rogue apps and any antivirus software run in a virtual machine (Dalvik VM) and any VM has zero access to any other running VM(nor can an App interfere with the operations of another running App) or the kernel itself. No app can ever infect the kernel. This is simply impossible. Whatever said by those AV companies is just pure rubbish.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 16:08

51. rusticguy (Posts: 2828; Member since: 11 Aug 2012)

Some Antivirus /Security software company labeled Wordpress the "Most Dangerous" software for web in 2010. Isn't PA running Wordpress? Onus of Securing device is on the user. Three Android devices at home and i havent found anyone to be infected ever.

PA should answer why it is running on Wordpress when it was labelled most dangerous SW in 2010 by bitdefender IIRC ... this is nothing but scaremongering in my opinion. I could be wrong but that still is my opinion :)

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 16:42

52. Jurdiales (Posts: 133; Member since: 10 Oct 2012)

I think if you purchase the apps from the Play Store in the legal way, and not downloading it from webpages claiming as "cracked and free" paid-apps... you should have no problems with malware...

Ohh... and if people stops downloading garbage apps like trash games, some "we need to put bookmarks on your homescreen and you're going to receive notifications" apps... and fake programs that claim to do impossible or extraordinary things... etc.

I like the fact that the Play Store there's much freedom that everyone can put their apps and begin a business so easily, but, maybe is too much freedom??

If we can afford a great phone with very good specs, why we can't afford some 99 cents apps for example, the piracy brings malware and that's proved.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 18:50

54. jroc74 (Posts: 6005; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)

My things is....when Firefox first came out, very lil malware, viruses. As it became more popular, more malware.

No surprise the same thing is going on with Android.

I just posted this in that article article....no security I got waaaaay less malware on my Android phones than I have any Windows desktop OS. I have yet to install any security on my Android phones, started in 2010. I woudlnt dare do that to my desktop PC.

And ppl...please pay attention to the permissions when installing apps!! If a wallpaper wants contact , phone list info....somethings up. Even then, some malware might be clever enough to hide suspicious permissions it wants.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 19:32

56. SemperFiV12 (Posts: 944; Member since: 09 Nov 2010)

I usually like your writing, but this was a bit off. You lingered on the term "horror story" being completely subjective, when in fact I think you cared to make a different point. I think your point with this article was the severity of the malware issue, and not so much the wording (not what MSFT dubbed particular events).

"we can all agree that there is a potential threat in that whole malware thing" + "even though it's undeniable that there is more malware for Android than there's for any other modern platform"

That's the ENTIRE point of #DroidRage. It may not be as big as Microsoft makes it out to be... or it may not be as big as what Android lovers think Microsoft is making it out to be...

And as far as subjectivity goes:
"extracting information like contact numbers, e-mail addresses, log-in details, and, the ultimate goal of all malevolent hackers, credit card details." = a horror story indeed. If you do not think it should be labeled a "horror" story that is subjective.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 19:39

57. MC1123 (Posts: 1255; Member since: 12 Nov 2012)


its good that windows phone is making things possible...but heck... they're all talk!

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 21:59

63. MC1123 (Posts: 1255; Member since: 12 Nov 2012)

i have a question...how to delete or deactivate unwanted notifications or ads? i always recieve one and im annoyed with it! coz i downloaded an app (speed night) and its the one causing it... i uninstalled it but it still send me its ads! can you please help me?

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 22:24

65. jroc74 (Posts: 6005; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)

Sounds like what happened to me. I would suggest in Settings/Apps look in all or running and see if something looks like it belonged to that app. Might be in Downloads.

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 22:31

66. MC1123 (Posts: 1255; Member since: 12 Nov 2012)

yeah... the app causing it is speed night... and i uninstalled it..but still its giving me ad notification!

i wish i dont need to reset my phone...

posted on 05 Dec 2012, 23:57

68. jroc74 (Posts: 6005; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)

Try Airpush Dector.

Maybe its another app causing it? Maybe something lese got installed with it? Airpush Dector should find whats causing the issue.

posted on 06 Dec 2012, 06:28

72. jroc74 (Posts: 6005; Member since: 30 Dec 2010)

Meant air push detector..lol

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