Signs your Android device is infected with malware (and what to do about it)

Credit: flickr photo by trophygeek

Hardly a month goes by without another alarming report about the tens of thousands of malware targeting devices running Google's Android mobile OS.

The malware issue is one of the reasons why Android hasn't caught on in the enterprise, even as the search giant's OS dominates the consumer mobile market. Yet as I wrote recently, the percentage of Android devices actually infected is small: Just 1%, according to Alcatel-Lucent's Q2 malware report (versus 0.52 for all mobile devices).

That's great news for 99% of Android device owners. But what if your device is one of the 1%? How can you even tell?

The easiest way is to run a scan using one of many free or paid anti-malware programs. However, before we get to those, let's look at some of the signs that your Android device is infected.

As with infected PCs, mobile devices that have downloaded malware can develop noticeable performance issues. Is everything taking longer than usual? Are you using up data at a faster rate than before? Does your battery seem to be running down much faster than previously? Are calls being dropped or interrupted with weird noises?

There could be other reasons for those performance issues -- maybe you've been on a YouTube jag, maybe your approaching the device's storage capacity, maybe you dropped your Android phone in a kitchen sink full of water while playing Candy Crush.

But there's no point in guessing or taking a chance, especially if you use your phone for work. Remember, some malware exists to collect and transmit data to the malware creators, and that includes enterprise information and passwords that might be on the device.

So if you do have malware detection and removal software on your Android device, you should use it if you suspect a problem. Check that: You should run malware scans routinely as a matter of precaution. It doesn't take long and it can give you some peace of mind.

Here are a few of the malware protection apps you can download from Google Play:

Malwarebytes

Malwarebytes, long a provider of PC malware protection software, on Wednesday unveiled its first mobile software for Android devices

The company says its free Android app covers more than 200 malware families and their variants, including "thousands of malware types, Trojans, backdoors, and spyware."

I already have Lookout (more on that below) on my HTC One and Nexus 7, but downloaded Malwarebytes onto my smartphone to try it out. The app scanned my device in less than a minute and declared it malware-free.

Malwarebytes also has a Privacy Manager that details which third-party apps on your Android device are accessing personal information such as your accounts, calendar, security settings, storage, text messages and more. (It's a large number, and I'll get into this personal information access issue in another article.)

Lookout

I've used the free version of Lookout Security & Antivirus since I bought my devices a couple of months ago. It's pretty comprehensive as far as scanning and protecting my devices from threats -- open Lookout and it shows you a list of apps with their security status ("Evernote is safe," "Waze is safe," etc.).

Lookout's settings allow users to determine whether the app automatically scans their devices weekly (which is what I do), daily or not at all. If you choose the latter (which I don't recommend), Lookout has a "Scan Now" button you can press to launch a scan.

Lookout is very popular, with more than 40 million downloads and nearly a half-million reviews on Google Play, with an average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars.

AVG Antivirus

This is an app I don't have, but I've used AVG for years on my PC. AVG's free mobile app for Android has been downloaded more than 70 million times and is even more highly rated than Lookout (4.6 average rating from nearly 679,000 reviewers).

Updated just last week with new permissions and auto power-saving to reduce battery consumption, AVG Antivirus scans apps, settings, files and media for viruses, malware and spyware. And while this has nothing to do with malware, AVG Antivirus also will kill tasks that slow your device -- a nice feature.

AVG also offers a free antivirus app for tablets in Google Play, but I'm not sure how it differs from the other mobile version.

Avast Mobile Security & Antivirus

Another company well-known for its PC protection software, Avast protects your Android device by scanning installed apps and memory card content, as well as new apps when they're first used. Users also can schedule automatic scans of their Android devices with Avast.

This is another highly rated app, with a 4.6 average rating in Google Play from 425,000 reviewers.

There are dozens of other malware protection apps in the Google Play store. As far as which one to choose, I don't recommend any of the apps cited above over each other. My recommendation is to stick with a familiar name that has a lot of reviews (at least 100,000) and a high rating. There's no need to be blazing a trail when it comes to your device's security.

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