Android malware can be difficult to spot. For example, a mobile app called Ads Blocker has touted itself as a useful service for reducing annoying mobile ads, which can pop up to cover your screen just when you’re about to access something important. In reality, the app was malware that only served more ads, according to security researchers.
This is just one example of malware that can frustrate Android users, invading them with ads that creators are paid to display, even when users are viewing unrelated apps. Malware also often reaped fake clicks from ads, doubling the value of their malware.
“They are making money,” said Nathan Collier, a researcher at Malwarebytes who helped identify the bogus ad blocker in November 2019, “and that’s the name of the game.”
Researchers claim that adware like Ads Blocker is the most common type of malware on Android devices. However, other malicious apps can do worse things than make your phone so frustrating to use as you want to Hulk and crush it – like stealing personal information from your phone.
Malware can confuse, interfere with the normal use of your phone, and make you uncomfortable even if you’re not sure what is causing the problem. It is also very common; Malwarebytes says it found nearly 200,000 total instances of malware on its customers’ devices in May and again in June. So how do you know if you have malware on your phone and how do you stop it? Here are some tips from mobile malware experts on what you can do.
How malware works on your phone
Mobile malware typically takes one of two approaches, said Adam Bauer, security researcher for mobile security company Lookout. The first type of malware tricks you into granting permissions that allow it to access sensitive information.
This is where the Ads Blocker app comes in, and many of the permissions it requested looks like something a real ad blocker would need. Unfortunately, they also allow the app to constantly run in the background and serve ads to users even when they are using unrelated apps.
The second type of malware exploits vulnerabilities in phones, accessing sensitive information by giving itself administrator privileges. This reduces the need to ask users to click “OK” on permission requests, making it easier to run malware without users noticing its presence on the device.
Signs of malware
Here are the signs that you have malware on your phone:
- You see ads all the time, no matter what app you are using.
- You install an app, then the icon immediately disappears.
- Your battery is draining much faster than usual.
- You see apps that you don’t recognize on your phone.
These are all worrying signs that require you to investigate further.
Ransomware on Android Phones
Another type of malware is ransomware. Victims usually have their files locked and cannot be used. Typically, a pop-up window will request payment in bitcoin to collect them. Fortunately, most Android ransomware can only lock files on external storage such as photos, Bauer said.
What is mobile malware capable of
Besides making you miserable with constant ads, mobile malware can gain access to private information. Common goals include:
- Your bank ID
- Information about your device
- Your phone number or email address
- Your contact lists
Hackers can use this information for various malicious tasks. They can commit identity theft with your bank credentials; they can sell your device and contact details until you’re inundated with automated calls, texts and, oh yeah, other advertisements; and they can send links to more malware to everyone in your contact list.
If you think your information has already been captured in the auto call machine, you can see what your phone company offers to help you minimize annoying phone calls. For example, T-Mobile, Sprint, and MetroPCS customers will have access to Scam Shield, a free app announced in July.
How to stop mobile malware on your Android phone
Whether you think you already have malware on your Android device or just want to protect yourself, there are clear steps you can take.
First of all, keep your phone software up to date. Security experts consistently rank a current operating system and updated applications as one of the most important steps users can take to protect their devices and accounts. If you already have malware running on your phone, software updates from your phone manufacturer – like Android 10 or the upcoming Android 11 – can fix vulnerabilities and cut off access to malware. Updates can also prevent malware from working in the first place.
Next, review the permissions your apps have. Can a game app send SMS? It’s probably unnecessary and could be a red flag, Bauer said. Keep this in mind when installing apps in the future.
You may also want to consider installing anti-virus applications. These services can slow down your phone at times, and they have increased access to your phone in order to detect malicious behavior and notify you, so you need to choose one that you trust. And you’ll probably want to go with the paid option if you can, both to unlock all the best features and to avoid seeing even more ads.
The apps can alert you to malware on your phone and provide you with customer service when you have to face something nasty. At the very least, you can use a well-known program like Malwarebytes, Norton, Lookout, or Bitdefender to scan your device if you think you have already installed malware.
Finally, you can get rid of or avoid Android apps downloaded from third-party app stores. These apps are not reviewed by Google and may more easily introduce malware to your phone. Google doesn’t get it all, as reports of malicious Android apps removed from the Play Store show, but sticking to the Google Play Store – and having a direct point of sale to report issues you’re having – is another line. defense.