Don't Download That App! How to Avoid Malware in Disguise

Follow these tips to keep fake apps and malware off your phone

Smartphone apps
zhijian Huang / Getty Images

News that fake versions of the popular Pokémon Go game or that Judy, the biggest-ever malware scam on Google, had popped up in the Google Play Store shed light on an ongoing problem. Fake and malicious apps can be destructive and often cause damage that affects phone performance or renders it useless. Other fake apps claim that the device has been infected by malware, and prompts users to purchase expensive tools to get rid of it. Avoid fake and malicious apps by taking a few steps before downloading apps from the Play Store. It's all about smart security.

The information below should apply no matter who made your Android phone: Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.

Avoid Third-Party App Stores

While malicious apps may be found in the Google Play Store, it's more likely to find them in third-party app stores, which often do little or no vetting. Stick to the Play Store, but be sure to follow the other tips in this article as well.

Google Play on Android

Look for the Name of the App Developer

It's easy to accidentally download a copycat app. To prevent downloading a fake app, verify that the manufacturer name is correct.

Android app developer info

For example, Pokémon Go is made by Niantic. If the Pokémon app has anything other than Niantic as its developer, move on. For other apps, find the appropriate developer with a Google search. Reputable developers have a website with information about their apps, tech support information, and contact details.

Read App Reviews

Popular apps have reviews by experts and users. Check the user reviews in the app store, and look for expert reviews from well-known tech publications. This will uncover any issues with reputable apps, and help you avoid malware. User reviews are particularly helpful in weeding out malicious or faulty apps.

Android app reviews

Install Security Software

If you use a PC, antivirus or other security software may be installed on it. Most of those companies offer mobile versions of their security software, including Avast, AVG, Avira, Bitdefender, and Kaspersky. There are many free options as well as premium apps with advanced features and a small annual fee.

Android Avira antivirus

These tools scan installed apps and warn you before visiting an infected website. As a bonus, there are features such as data backup, remote wipe, and the ability to lock apps.

Keep Your Android OS Up to Date

Download OS updates and security updates, which often include patches to protect devices from recent threats. Learn how to update your Android OS.

Update Android version

Follow Security News

Ransomware is when a cybercriminal locks you out of your device and will only unlock it after you pay them. If ransomware makes its way into the Google Play Store, it would be disastrous.

Many malicious apps and security breaches have been discovered by software security companies. Follow tech blogs to get security updates or set up a Google alert.

If you accidentally download a bad app and you regularly back up the device, reset it to factory defaults, then restore your contacts, photos, and other data — minus the malware. When that's done, run a security app to make sure the device is clean. And if you find you can't get rid of the malware, you have options to remove it.