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Best Practices to Identify Malicious Applications in Android

Dr. Michael J. Garbade's profile image

By: Dr. Michael J. Garbade

October 10, 2018

Android is a significant platform for mobile operators, which boasts of more than a billion users globally and a market share of about 80%.

However, the platform is a target for malware schemers who are constantly infringing on the security of Android devices.

Sunil Kumar, who is an India-based cybersecurity professional and currently teaches people Android security practices, says that “it is necessary for users to know how to identify malware in Android and learn the best techniques to protect their devices.” But first things first:

What are the Types of Mobile Malware?

Here are some of the types of mobile malware that cybercriminals use today:

  • Trojan—This malware allows unauthorized access to a user’s device by hiding itself within a legitimate software while performing illegal actions.
  • Spyware—Monitors and steals users’ credentials by illegally recording their actions without their knowledge.
  • SMS Malware—Works by illegally incurring SMS charges by sending and intercepting text messages without the user’s awareness.
  • Adware—Pop ups on a user’s device with frequent ads redirecting the user to inadvertent applications or web pages.
  • Rooting Malware—Works by rooting itself on a device and unraveling the operating system to access hidden privileges.
  • Ransomware—Holds users' files hostage and demands payment before releasing the files or allowing the proper functioning of the device.
  • Banker Malware—Monitors users’ devices with the aim of stealing bank credentials without the users’ knowledge.

Here are some telltale signs to help you identify whether your Android device  has been infected with any of the above malware.

1. Look Out For Sudden Pop ups

If your device is constantly bummed by nagging popup ads that just won’t go away, or annoying, unsolicited reminders, or system warnings, this could be an indication that your Android device has an Adware infection.

Android phone attacks are carried out through mal-advertising where ads are made to look perfectly normal as they appear on a legitimate online platform.

The user’s device is compromised as soon as they click on an ad. Such ads often persistently pop up on the screen, prompting users to tap on them to trigger a malicious download.

2. Beware Of A Surge In Data Usage

Your monthly data usage is a good indicator of whether your Android device has been infected with a malware. The data usage information could help you to identify anomalies in the current usage compared to prior periods. If your usage patterns haven’t changed, yet there is a sudden surge in the data usage report, then watch out for malware attacks. The spike in data usage when a phone is infected with malicious applications is because of the adware that generates profit for malware operators through unsolicited background clicks. It often leads to an unauthorized surge in bandwidth usage.

3. Find the Root Cause of Unexplained charges

If you are incurring unexplainable charges, especially as SMS costs, then is likely that your phone is under an SMS malware attack. When a malware intercepts text messages and transfers them to premium-rate numbers, you could experience high bills. Cybercriminals can direct users to malicious web pages through URLs leading to infected pages or popup screens. The URLs are sent to the user either by text message or email and appear legit to prompt them to accept the infected files onto their phones. Clicking links on the legitimate looking site usually trigger the download of infected files, which then incurs unauthorized charges to the user’s account.

4. Scan Your Device For Unwanted Applications

Another technique for how to check for malware on Android is through scanning your device for unwanted apps. Cybercriminals usually use the Android operating system to deliver compromised applications to unsuspecting users. Therefore, it is important to counter-check applications before downloading. Malware operators are known to develop rogue versions of original applications, which they repackage into apps for unsuspecting users to download.If you come across an app that you didn’t install, then your gadget could be infected with a Trojan, which gives unauthorized access and leads to downloading applications without your consent. Be cautious about downloading apps on the app stores lest you give room to infected applications.

5. Monitor Battery Drain

Unauthorized background activity can lead to increased data usage, which can have a negative impact on a device’s battery life. A battery drain can occur where third-party apps lead to unauthorized downloads, which suck the device’s power. A malware infection can cause your phone’s battery to heat up, even when left idle, leading to a drastic drain in the battery life. If a new application on your Android device causes a sudden drain in the battery, then the application is probably malicious and your device is compromised.

How to Protect Your Android Device from Malware

So you’ve known how to identify malicious apps and suspect that your device is infected; what next?

Remove any questionable and stubborn apps from your device. Any unfamiliar files that you don’t remember downloading should be uninstalled as soon as possible. To avoid falling prey to malware attackers, do not download and install apps from unknown sources. For the Android mobile platform, the official Google Play app store is a safe alternative—though it is advisable to go through the app reviews to detect known apps with malware. You should avoid granting system access permission to prompts from unknown sources. Furthermore, visiting random websites and clicking on arbitrary links could expose yourself to drive-by malware. Lastly, if you have any important files stored on your device, you should always back them up and protect yourself from ransomware.

Final Thoughts

You can never be too careful when protecting yourself from malicious applications in Android. Therefore, you should always be vigilant. If anything seems odd, then stop everything and investigate the issue. Importantly, you need to equip yourself with the right skills on how to find malicious apps Android. This way, you’ll be able to identify dangerous applications that can cause damage to your system.

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