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Malware on Android: is it really the problem security companies tout it to be?

Posted: , by Victor H.

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Malware on Android: is it really the problem security companies tout it to be?
You’ve heard it a thousand times - Android is full of malware, viruses, and who knows what. It is just not secure, you need an antivirus app, just like on Windows, and the list of myths just snowballs from there.

"Damage to the OS" is the keyword when we speak about malware. To understand why they are irrelevant on Android, we have to focus on the way Google built its platform, using a model called sandboxing. In a nutshell, the sandboxing idea is that apps only get a limited “sandbox” where they operate. 

Everything out of the sandbox is something apps don’t have access to. This contrasts with the way Windows for example treats apps where they can do everything the user can. That’s not the case on Android (and iOS too). Malicious apps simply won’t be able to access the low-level system files and break your system.

Malware and scaremongering
This does not stop security companies from repeating the malware mantra, though. Earlier in 2012, security company Sophos claimed a game called “The Roar of the Pharaoh” was actually a trojan that could steal your phone number and IMEI. Only slight issue is the app was never on Google Play, but rather on a conveniently unnamed “unofficial download sites.”

McAfee also jumped in on the scare train saying some phones were infected with two new Android viruses in 2011, the NickiSpy and GoldenEagle viruses. Interestingly, later on it was confirmed that the NickiSpy virus was found on between 0 and 49 Android devices. That’s practically zero given the fact that Android grows by 1.3 million devices per day. Most recently, McAfee tried to scare Android users again reporting on malware supposedly increasing by 700% on Android. Truth is, the report never mentions the Google Play store, but rather looks at all kinds of third-party stores and websites. Again, simple common sense would tell you not to download anything from there.

Do anti-virus apps work on Android?
Sandboxing however also means that anti-virus apps are largely useless against malware. Why? For the very same reason - they don’t have access to the low level system files, so they cannot protect them. Remember Google engineer Chris DiBona’s eye-opening Google Plus post. Here is the essence of it:
"Virus companies are playing on your fears to try to sell you bs protection software for Android, RIM and IOS. They are charlatans and scammers."

But anti-virus apps do exist on Android, and question remains what is their function? At best, they will check your existing applications against a list of corrupt third-party apps, but nothing more.

The sandboxing model protects your device, but it cannot protect you from yourself.
The fact that Android has no malware doesn’t mean it is 100% free of security problems. While the sandboxing model protects your device, it cannot protect you from yourself.

Fake apps and premium texting apps exist
The reality of the situation is that there are generally two types of corrupt applications - rogueware and spyware on one hand, and dialer and texting apps that will hit your phone bill on the other.

Again, if you stick with common sense and don’t install unknown apps from all kinds of suspicious sources, you’d be fine. A universal solution would be not to allow apps from unknown sources on your device. For this, you simply head into settings and disable the ‘Unknown Sources’ option (which should be disabled by default).

The most common problem now seems to be fake apps that would blow up with pop-ups for the few days they are allowed on Google Play. But that’s not really the malware you should be terribly worried about.

To quickly recap, malware on Android is not the issue some want you to believe it is. The sandboxing model keeps your phone safe, and common sense and the Google Play market make it bullet-proof against spyware and other corrupt apps. Everything else boils down to scaremongering and third-partyapp catalogs, and you already know you shouldn't download anything from there, don't you?

Here is how Android fights against malicious apps.

Here is how Android fights against malicious apps.

49 Comments
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posted on 31 Oct 2012, 10:50 9

1. wendygarett (unregistered)


I dont think android is the only platform faced this, the jailbroken ios has experienced that too... If you afraid of getting virus, try not purchase the free apps, or surfing the porn stuff etc...

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:07 23

6. parkwaydr (Posts: 572; Member since: 07 Sep 2011)


It's not free apps, its when you go outside Google play that can cause a problem, I have been on Android now for two years, have never once paid for an app, and have never once had a problem, annoyed by adds sure, but no malware.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:24 12

10. exo2u (Posts: 25; Member since: 10 May 2012)


Two years.. geez go support the developers your raping. Seriously

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:36 25

14. NexusKoolaid (Posts: 298; Member since: 24 Oct 2011)


Think before you criticize. Where in his post did he say he was pirating premium apps?

"annoyed by adds". That means apps which are supported by serving ads, offered without cost by the developer. Consumer gets free software, and the developer gets ad-generated revenue. No raping going on there.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:41 8

15. parkwaydr (Posts: 572; Member since: 07 Sep 2011)


Why thank you kind sir.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 12:09 4

18. muck1 (Posts: 9; Member since: 02 Mar 2012)


me and u in the same boat never got malware and im 3 years and going

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 12:34 4

22. richardyarrell2011 (banned) (Posts: 510; Member since: 16 Mar 2011)


There is no need for antivirus or all this crazy stuff. The operating system protects you. I have never ever had an issue on any of my android devices and I have had 6 going on my 7th in the coming weeks. Total farce in my world..

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 10:58 1

2. avidb (Posts: 7; Member since: 26 Oct 2012)


Just the fact that there are more cases on the android of such, is what deters me from the OS.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:21 21

9. blazee (Posts: 284; Member since: 02 Jan 2012)


Did you even bother reading the article before posting your comment?

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:42 1

16. avidb (Posts: 7; Member since: 26 Oct 2012)


Do even bother educating yourself on more than just what one single article says.

I agree that it's not as big as an issue they make it to be. Doesn't mean it's still not a problem that still does happen!

You should have read my post in context.

Ps. I know it happens bc I've had ppl themselves telling me they have these problems which result in major slow downs on their android, among other things.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 12:27 7

20. willard12 (Posts: 830; Member since: 04 Jul 2012)


The people complaining to you about the viruses are either security software developers or they download a whole lot of porn. With all you have read and have heard, can you name an app in Google Play that is malicious?

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 15:33 3

35. CanYouSeeTheLight (Posts: 870; Member since: 05 Jul 2012)


Oh, so you think you are so well educated that you know more than the people that use that OS everyday? Good luck trolling, i have been using Android phones since 2010 and i got 0 virus till date.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 20:55 2

40. KFear (Posts: 137; Member since: 06 Feb 2012)


You STILL didn't read the article. If you go to the source itself, which is google, we will see countless times that malware and virus are not the issue with the android platform, as they state. You HAVE to read the article first and understand where they are getting this info. They aren't getting it from 3rd party articles.

posted on 01 Nov 2012, 11:08 2

44. gwuhua1984 (Posts: 1237; Member since: 06 Mar 2012)


Please re-read the article and write a detailed report. We'll grade your comprehension skills.

posted on 02 Nov 2012, 14:42

47. dragonstkdgirl (Posts: 144; Member since: 07 Apr 2012)


"People telling me"?

Please do experience the OS and these issues before quoting "for sure" problems. Quoting "ppl themselves" doesn't hold water. Thanks.

Educating oneself, indeed.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 10:59 13

3. BadAssAbe (Posts: 434; Member since: 22 Apr 2011)


Everybody knows
Porn > Everything Else

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:00 12

4. josephnero (Posts: 317; Member since: 16 Nov 2011)


google cant protect fools from themselves

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:01 7

5. PackMan (Posts: 277; Member since: 09 Mar 2012)


I think Victor H. stole this article and quickly posted it while his brother Michael H. was passed out on weed.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:25 3

11. squallz506 (banned) (Posts: 1075; Member since: 19 Oct 2011)


Bwahaha

When I was reading it I thought it was an article by mike h.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:26 2

12. Cyan3boN (Posts: 425; Member since: 23 Feb 2012)


Oh i didnt know they were brothers.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:09 19

7. parkwaydr (Posts: 572; Member since: 07 Sep 2011)


I hate that Android gets crap for this, its no different than a p.c, you do stupid stuff, you create your own risks.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:09 6

8. Reluctant_Human (Posts: 864; Member since: 28 Jun 2012)


Thank you for this article. I'm going to pass this to some paranoid friends I have that constantly break my balls about this issue.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:34 8

13. Aeires (unregistered)


Darn right it's a problem, it's the single greatest problem that Android has today. Btw, I'm an anti-virus software developer, let me tell you how I plan to fix this problem.....

/s

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 11:57 1

17. PhoneCritic (Posts: 360; Member since: 05 Oct 2011)


@Aeires lol

Well said. These virus vendors see the explosive growth in android and knowing that the PC era will most likely end 5- 10 years from now are sounding the alarms to get business that's all!! They cant stay in business without Viruses and since Android addresses the issue by sand boxing everything they know their time is short.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 12:22

19. TheDude13 (Posts: 12; Member since: 11 Aug 2012)


Google Is the responsable for this issue, they should control the Market like Apple does

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 12:32 3

21. wassup (Posts: 565; Member since: 23 Jun 2011)


read the article.
They do.
the problem arises when some idiotic user tries to get free stuff instead of buying it from the play store and gets a virus. That's the idiot's fault, not Google's.
And the iShep and bingheads are blowing it out of proportion

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 13:04

25. TheDude13 (Posts: 12; Member since: 11 Aug 2012)


any one can upload app to the Android Market, google does not control this process which is the whole point here, and frankle if im gonna pay for apps in Android then i better off with iPhone OR WP8 phones at least they are more stable and not laggy or i have to suffer to receive update or get abandon and blame it for hardware lackness

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 14:18 3

31. Aeires (unregistered)


http://www.ibtimes.com/apple-ios-app-store-gets-first-virus-learn-about-app-steals-your-contacts-and-spams-your-friends

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/virusbarrier/id436111378?mt=8

http://www.brightsideofnews.com/news/2012/7/5/trojan-horses-and-app-corruption-found-in-apple-app-store.aspx

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2012/07/26/windows_malware_ios_app_store_shocker/

Let it go, iFan.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 19:32 1

38. someones4 (Posts: 619; Member since: 16 Sep 2012)


Nice. Apple also took down the 'secure os' claim from their website.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 15:03 2

34. wassup (Posts: 565; Member since: 23 Jun 2011)


did you see the infographic? it scans the app uploaded for any malicious code.
Nexus. nuff said

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 13:58 1

28. networkdood (Posts: 6278; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


BINGHEADS?? LOL, love that word

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 12:40 1

23. xfire99 (Posts: 544; Member since: 14 Mar 2012)


Nice article, hopes this ends with all crap, that android have viruses and others OS are not. Common of sense is all it needs and doesnt matter what OS.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 12:41 6

24. Sniggly (Posts: 7122; Member since: 05 Dec 2009)


Despite the asshats who can't read, this was an excellent article. Thank you, Victor. I've been saying this for years.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 13:12

26. parkwaydr (Posts: 572; Member since: 07 Sep 2011)


Agreed, victor I apologize for my lash out earlier, this fairness totally redeems you.....for today, lol jk.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 13:56 2

27. networkdood (Posts: 6278; Member since: 31 Mar 2010)


Never had an issue with Malware - the stuff that claims it is for cleaning your phone from this stuff is usually the malware itself. Reminds me of those 'double my speed' commercials - that software is malware/spyware.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 14:10 1

29. ChrisG (Posts: 36; Member since: 22 Aug 2012)


I used Lookout for the longest time, and apart from its ability to locate my phone if I lose it or if it's stolen, all it really did was slow down app updates and installations. I've since uninstalled it. Anyone know of a good app (preferably free) that *just* locates your phone and/or makes it "scream"?

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 14:11

30. ChrisG (Posts: 36; Member since: 22 Aug 2012)


I guess Lookout did backups, too, but I haven't ever needed that service.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 14:36

32. parkwaydr (Posts: 572; Member since: 07 Sep 2011)


I run lookout as well, imo its the best choice for free, atleast until i find something better

posted on 02 Nov 2012, 14:48

48. dragonstkdgirl (Posts: 144; Member since: 07 Apr 2012)


"Where's My Droid" is a free app that can turn ringer on full volume when you text the right keywords to it, or it will text back the phone's GPS coordinates if texted "GPS My Droid".

I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I rarely have my GPS on so if someone steals my phone I'm pretty much screwed.

Still looking for another app that is a bit more in depth like Lookout that doesn't kill my battery.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 15:00

33. allkhanan2 (Posts: 5; Member since: 10 Sep 2012)


hey mister victor h! How much google did pay you for this article??

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 18:55

36. GeekMovement (Posts: 1505; Member since: 09 Sep 2011)


Never had a virus on my android handsets either.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 19:30

37. someones4 (Posts: 619; Member since: 16 Sep 2012)


the only apps i download from unknown sources are roms and emulators. The phone seems to be fine.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 19:50

39. soshi (Posts: 154; Member since: 08 Mar 2012)


I don't use any antivirus application and never have problem. Last time I install one just for anti theft but also not work. I realize this after upgrading using flashtool but forget to turn off anti theft. No alarm nor notification to protect my phone.

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 21:10 1

41. Quezdagreat (Posts: 427; Member since: 05 Apr 2012)


Sad, I'm glad iPhones aren't like pc's because pc's crashes and get viruses.

posted on 01 Nov 2012, 21:53

45. JunkCreek (Posts: 404; Member since: 13 Jul 2012)


so, u must not use any pc. i'm glad 4 u 2

posted on 01 Nov 2012, 22:00

46. Quezdagreat (Posts: 427; Member since: 05 Apr 2012)


Yes I do use a pc, with windows 8. I rather have a antivirus program on a pc and not on a cell phone

posted on 31 Oct 2012, 22:56

42. JunkCreek (Posts: 404; Member since: 13 Jul 2012)


iT iS PROOF that AndroiD iS beiNg so popular and the most used OS iN the world, so iT iS common that malwares and viRuses gettiNg on the way. What do you thiNg about MiCrosoft wiNdows, they are SO POPULAR and MOST OS USED by people and yet the malwares and viRuses iSsues were iGnored by all the people and they stiLl usiNg MiCrosoft WiNdows as their preferred OS.

So, the more malwares and viRuses OS have, iT means the more iNformation to stole, iT menas the more people using iT over the whole earth (can't say world, 'coz i Don't know how's the other world u can see on iMap). and iOS may most use only iN US - i Don't know, just my guess, heheheh-.

posted on 01 Nov 2012, 06:19 1

43. TylerGrunter (Posts: 1005; Member since: 16 Feb 2012)


Thanks Victor, finally someone in PA stop the silly claims about malware (there is, but mostly just if you install apps from doutbly sites).
Great article about the sandboxing and why Android is in fact more secure than Windows.

posted on 03 Nov 2012, 08:45

49. sgogeta4 (Posts: 392; Member since: 02 Feb 2011)


And iOS.

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