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

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 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?

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49 Comments

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...

6. parkwaydr

Posts: 572; Member since: Sep 07, 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.

10. exo2u

Posts: 27; Member since: May 10, 2012

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

14. NexusKoolaid

Posts: 493; Member since: Oct 24, 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.

15. parkwaydr

Posts: 572; Member since: Sep 07, 2011

Why thank you kind sir.

18. muck1

Posts: 13; Member since: Mar 02, 2012

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

22. richardyarrell2011

Posts: 510; Member since: Mar 16, 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..

2. avidb

Posts: 7; Member since: Oct 26, 2012

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

9. blazee

Posts: 414; Member since: Jan 02, 2012

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

16. avidb

Posts: 7; Member since: Oct 26, 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.

20. willard12 unregistered

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?

35. CanYouSeeTheLight

Posts: 1122; Member since: Jul 05, 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.

40. KFear

Posts: 170; Member since: Feb 06, 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.

44. gwuhua1984

Posts: 1237; Member since: Mar 06, 2012

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

47. dragonstkdgirl

Posts: 144; Member since: Apr 07, 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.

3. BadAssAbe

Posts: 508; Member since: Apr 22, 2011

Everybody knows Porn > Everything Else

4. josephnero

Posts: 782; Member since: Nov 16, 2011

google cant protect fools from themselves

5. PackMan

Posts: 277; Member since: Mar 09, 2012

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

11. squallz506

Posts: 1075; Member since: Oct 19, 2011

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

12. Cyan3boN

Posts: 446; Member since: Feb 23, 2012

Oh i didnt know they were brothers.

7. parkwaydr

Posts: 572; Member since: Sep 07, 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.

8. Reluctant_Human

Posts: 913; Member since: Jun 28, 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.

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

17. PhoneCritic

Posts: 1354; Member since: Oct 05, 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.

19. TheDude13

Posts: 12; Member since: Aug 11, 2012

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

21. wassup

Posts: 565; Member since: Jun 23, 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

25. TheDude13

Posts: 12; Member since: Aug 11, 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

38. someones4

Posts: 628; Member since: Sep 16, 2012

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

34. wassup

Posts: 565; Member since: Jun 23, 2011

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

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