Do I Need an Antivirus for Android?

You do need antivirus for your Android, and this is why

Image of a smartphone with a virus

 Kritchanut\Getty Images

When most people think of antivirus software, they think of applications meant to protect your PC from a virus. But have you ever asked yourself, "Do I need antivirus for my Android phone?"

The answer is yes, but the reasons are slightly complicated.

Reasons to Install Android Antivirus Software

There are a number of reasons smartphones are less vulnerable to viruses than other devices like Windows or Mac computers.

  • Malicious software is limited to applications only available to Android.
  • Google is diligent about identifying and removing dangerous applications from the Google Play store.
  • By default, the Android operating system keeps important system files and folders protected in a root area that applications you install can't change.

However, there are user behaviors that counteract these safeguards and introduce the risk of a virus infecting the Android phone.

  • Installing malicious apps. Generally, most Android users only download applications from the Google Play store. Since Google works hard to identify and remove malicious software from Google Play, you're safe when downloading most applications there. With that said, some malicious applications occasionally make it onto Google Play. Also, there are many Android users who venture outside of the Google Play store, and download APK installation files from other websites. Doing this puts your Android phone at significant risk of getting a virus.
  • Clicking Facebook ads. Just like when you click on malicious social network ads on your computer can cause an adware infection, tapping on those ads from your Android device carries the same risk. This is because many of the malicious ads use vulnerabilities in JavaScript or Flash which can run on any device regardless of operating system.
  • Clicking on phishing emails. Phishing emails sent out by spammers usually have attachments that, when clicked, install malicious software onto your system. Most of the time this software is created to infect a Windows computer. However, in recent years there have been more phishing attachments created to specifically target Android users. This means that you're not always safe when clicking these attachments just because you're using an Android device.
  • Having your phone stolen. While losing your phone doesn't directly post a threat for getting infected with a virus, it is a significant threat to your privacy. It's very likely that if you've been using your phone for a while, it contains personal pictures, sensitive financial documents, and other information that you don't want to land in the hands of hackers. Many Android antivirus apps have features that let you remotely lock your phone, or even destroy all data that's stored on it.
  • You've rooted your phone. When you first buy a new Android phone, all system files and folders are protected. Neither you as a user, or any applications you install, can modify any root system files. Unfortunately, it's possible for people to modify phone permissions in a process called rooting the Android. Unfortunately, clearing those permissions gives any malicious software you install easy access to infect and modify your Android's system files.

How to Protect Your Android

Because of the reasons above, it's clear that installing Android antivirus software is a good idea to protect any Android device, including smartphones and Android tablets.

Screenshot of the BitDefender antivirus app

You can find a number of effective, free antivirus apps for Android to install on your device.

How Do Antivirus Apps Protect Your Android?

  • Antivirus Protection: Whenever infected files end up on your device, the software will identify them and remove or quarantine them so the potentially harmful files can't do any damage.
  • Improve Performance: If there are malicious apps consuming your device's CPU or memory, antivirus software will quarantine or remove those apps and make sure your Android is performing optimally. This can also improve your Android's battery life.
  • System Permissions: Most antivirus apps will scan your device and identify when any system files or folders have had their permissions modified. Since this is normally an indication of virus activity, antivirus apps will alert you when this kind of abnormal activity is happening.
  • Remotely Protect Data: Most antivirus apps include the ability to remotely locate and lock your Android so the thief can't log in. Some even take pictures of the person trying to unlock the phone and tag those images with the location of the device.If that unauthorized user does gain access, the apps will allow you to remotely wipe out all data from your system so the thief can't access your personal files.

It is possible to use an Android for years without ever having problems with malware or viruses. The risks depend greatly on how you use the device, what applications you download, and whether you've rooted the phone or otherwise modified the Android.

Installing antivirus software will ensure that, on the off chance that you do get infected, it will be disabled and removed from your device.