How to Identify and Remove Android Viruses

The growth of the smartphone industry has been nothing short of amazing. Just a decade ago, mobile phones – and smartphones in particular – were luxury items owned by a small group of early adopters. Today, 5 billion people around the world own smartphones and these powerful devices have become intertwined with our lives. Everything from banking to emails to online shopping can be completed on a smartphone.

The popularity and usefulness of these devices have also made them targets for hackers who want to take advantage of the opportunity to access the information we store on our smartphones. Many smartphone users are lulled into a false sense of security, often incorrectly believing that their Android device cannot get a virus in the same way a home computer or laptop could. This misconception has been driven by marketing efforts and the perceived security offered by the official app stores. But make no mistake, your Android phone is just as much a target for hackers as your computer and there are countless Android viruses that could infect your phone, compromise your privacy, and ruin your experience.

In this article, we will outline some of the most common Android viruses, how to identify them, and how to remove them so you can take back control of your own device. In addition, we will also provide some helpful tips to improve your smartphone’s security so that you can feel confident using your device in the future and avoid many of the reasons users find their device has been infected.

Are Android devices more prone to viruses?

There is a sense among many that Android devices are more prone to viruses than iOS devices. Part of this is rooted in an effective marketing campaign by Apple that advertises iOS devices like the iPhone as being more secure than their competitors. It is also true that Android viruses are more common than iOS viruses. Much of this is due simply to the market share enjoyed by Android devices worldwide. 75% of smartphones currently in use run on the Android operating system which makes targeting Android devices a much more fruitful endeavor for hackers. A viruses designed for the Android operating system has the potential to infect many more devices.

The freedom offered to Android users is also another reason it’s more common to see viruses on Android devices. Apple provides a very locked down ecosystem whereby users can only download approved apps through the official app store. If you’re an Android user, however, you have the ability to install and uninstall apps from outside the official Google Play app store which increases the chances an app may contain malicious code. It’s also important to recognize that download apps from official channels are not immune to viruses, either. There have been many examples of popular apps being hijacked by hackers to distribute code to users.

It’s definitely possible for Android users to be disproportionately affected by viruses but much of that boils down to the popularity of the app store and the freedom given to users rather than a flaw in the design of the operating system. Regardless, if you’ve been infected with a virus, your sole focus becomes identifying and removing the virus to take back control over your device.

Identifying and removing ransomware on your Android device

Ransomware is a particularly devastating form of Android malware that has become much more common in recent years. Users are left feeling helpless and hackers use that emotional response to force users into paying money. So, what does ransomware on an Android device look like and how can you manage it?

A ransomware infection may go largely undetected until a hacker chooses to launch the attack. After the malware has been installed on the device, hackers have the ability to encrypt and lock a smartphone’s data. This will display a message to you on your screen with payment instructions and render your device entirely unuseable. In many cases, you won’t even be able to power off your device or turn down the volume if the message is playing a loud tone to grab your attention. Unsurprisingly, in their panic, many people choose to pay the hackers in order to gain back access to their important information. If they don’t pay, the hackers have the ability to wipe the device and cause the loss of all data.

If you have been infected by ransomware, here are some steps you can take to resolve the problem:

  • Try performing a soft reset of your device to see if it clears the message, if only briefly. The method for doing this will vary from device to device but usually involves holding the power key along with another key like the “volume up” key for 10 seconds. Your phone should reboot after doing this. However, some hackers are able to disable this function and it may not work.
  • The next thing to try is booting your device into recovery mode. Again, this method will vary from device to device but many devices will then allow the option to boot into “safe mode.” Using safe mode, you can power on your device as normal but it will prevent apps from automatically launching. This gives you the opportunity to delete any recently downloaded apps that may have infected your device. Once done, try powering on the device normally to see if the ransomware message has disappeared.
  • If this fails, you will likely need to wipe your device and start from factory settings. This will cause the loss of all data on the phone which is why you should regularly be backing up important things like photos, contacts, and more. Booting into recovery mode should allow the option to restore data to factory settings. This cannot be undone so be sure to try all above methods before proceeding. Once the reset is complete, your device should function as normal and you will have to set it up again as if you had just purchased it from the store.

Is adware interrupting your day?

Nothing is more annoying than unwanted popup ads. If your phone has been infected with adware, then you may find constant popups on your display, even when not using an app. These ads often advertise adult content like gambling websites, pornographic websites, or dating services. Not only can they be annoying and embarrassing, they can make using your phone normally a nightmare. If you suspect you are a victim of adware then there are some steps you can take to remove the virus.

  • First, try installing a well-known Android virus scanner security app. Avast Mobile Security and Kapersky Mobile Security are both popular choices that have been trusted by countless Android users. These apps can scan your device for malicious software, identify the culprit, and help you remove the infection. If the anti-virus scanner does not find anything, however, it may be more challenging for you to identify the source of the problem.
  • Your next step is to work backwards through the Android apps you have installed. Begin uninstalling new apps to see if the problem fixes itself. When you feel you have found the offending app, you can begin installing other apps to see if the adware infection has been resolved. Take note of where you downloaded the app, the creator of the app, and file a report against the app if possible.
  • In some cases, apps are able to install malware directly onto the phone’s system storage which means deleting the malicious app will not actually remove the virus. In this case, you may need to consider a complete factory reset of the device data. This should only be done if the above steps have not worked. Luckily, unlike with ransomware viruses, adware viruses still allow some usability of your device. Use this opportunity to back up any important data before wiping the device. This can be done through the recovery mode function or the settings menu. On an Android device, you can tap on the “Settings” app, then select “General,” then tap “Reset,” and finally select the “Factory Data Reset” option.

Spyware snooping on your stuff?

One of the most difficult to identify forms of virus on an Android device is spyware. This type of malware lurks behind the scenes and steals your valuable information like passwords and messages. Since this type of malware isn’t in your face like ransomware or adware, it can be difficult to realize that your device is infected. One red flag that spyware may be present on your device is if you find that accounts like your social media profiles or email addresses are being accessed without your knowledge or consent. In some cases, these services will send an alert email if they detect an unusual login. This could be the sign you need to tip you off that something is wrong and your device needs spyware removal. If this happens to you, here’s what you need to do:

  • Like with adware, one of the first steps to take is to install a mobile virus scanner on your device. Choose a trusted name with positive online reviews. These apps can often find and remove malware from your Android device and, in many cases, this single step will solve the problem.
  • If the virus scanner fails to detect anything, you will want to begin deleting any new apps that you may have installed, especially ones that weren’t from the official app store. The challenge with this is that you may not be aware the spyware has been removed because it’s not immediately clear that it was present in the first place.
  • The sure fire method of removing spyware is to do a complete wipe of your device. Before doing this, you will want to backup any important information that you don’t want to lose. Then, to wipe the device and reset it back to factory settings  you can tap on the “Settings” app, then select “General,” then tap “Reset,” and finally select the “Factory Data Reset” option.

Where did all of these apps come from?

If you’re scrolling through the app drawer on your device and you notice a few suspicious apps that you don’t remember installing, then your Android device may have a virus. Some malicious apps have the ability to download and install other apps without a user’s knowledge. It isn’t until you see these apps that you will realize something is wrong. Worst of all, fixing this isn’t as simple as just deleting the unwanted apps. There are a few steps you’ll need to take for virus removal to ensure your device is safe and secure.

  • As with many other Android viruses, one of the best and most simple solutions is to install a trusted Android antivirus app. Once this had identified the offending app, you may still need to delete the other unwanted apps as they may not be marked as malicious.
  • The next step to try if the virus scanner doesn’t identify an issue is to begin deleting new apps and working backwards. Anything suspicious or apps that have been sideloaded (installed from somewhere other than the official app store) should be deleted as well. Once the problem is resolved, you can test other apps by installing them again to see if they were the culprit or not.
  • Your last resort option is to wipe your entire device. Hopefully this is not necessary after removing the app that is allowing new apps to be installed without permission. However, if the problem persists then it indicates that the virus has installed itself into the system files. Failing detection by a virus scanning app means that a factory data reset is the only option. Open the “Settings” app, tap “General,” select “Reset,” and then confirm you would like to complete a factory data reset.

Prevention is the best protection

Finding a virus on your Android device can be alarming and make your privacy feel violated. Luckily, there are some best practices that you can follow to help ensure your device remains free of viruses and, hopefully, you will never need to perform the above steps ever again.

First, avoid installing apps from untrusted or unknown sources. While it’s not completely foolproof, the Play Store does an effective job of screening apps for malicious code and removing those that may introduce malicious code even after they have been initially approved. When you go outside the secure garden of the Play Store to install an app, you are taking a risk. There is no opportunity for Google to verify the quality or security of the app.

You may also wish to download a virus scanner onto your device. This is the first step we recommend for removing a virus but it can also be one of the best ways to prevent a virus from being installed in the first place. Be sure to read reviews and choose a trusted virus scanner that offers regular updates to identify new forms of malware being developed to target Android users.

Finally, never click on links or download files that you’re not sure of. If an email comes with a suspicious link, avoid it. If a file is sent from an unknown sender or if it has a strange file type extension, don’t download it. When in doubt, reach out to the person or company sending the link or file to confirm that it’s legitimate.

These small steps can help protect your Android device from viruses and save you a lot of time, headache, and stress.

Alex Grant
 

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