September 21, 2012

Why Bloggers Say Android Antivirus Apps Are Useless

If you search “android antivirus” on Google you can find a lively debate on the necessity and efficacy of protecting your mobile phone from viruses with an antivirus app. We’re here with some good news: technically, viruses don’t exist on Android! A virus is a piece of software that can copy itself and automatically spread to other devices, and this kind of replication is not possible on the Android operating system. Thank goodness. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need an “antivirus” app.

The word virus has stuck in the popular lexicon as a common term for all malicious software. For most people, it’s simpler to use a generic term like “virus” rather than memorizing the nuances of a trojan, worm, rootkit, malware, adware or spyware. They’re all bad, and some types of malware do threaten Android devices. So if you see Lookout use terms like “cell phone virus” or “Android antivirus app,” it’s because that’s what people understand and search for when they want to protect themselves. In fact, Google Insights shows that people search much more often for “Android virus” than for “Android malware.” We’re not trying to mislead anyone here, we’re just trying to keep folks informed.

On Android and other mobile operating systems, users can unknowingly download malware-infected apps from an app store, the web, or even from email attachments. Once installed on your phone, Android malware can steal personal information, place charges on your mobile account, track your location and activity or hijack your phone. No, it can’t replicate itself and jump to another device – but you certainly don’t want it on your smartphone.

So yes, there is a growing amount of Android malware out there that you should avoid at all costs. (We even did a report about it.) The good news is that it doesn’t cost anything to avoid it – just download Lookout Android Security + Antivirus for free today. Lookout will immediately scan your Android smartphone or tablet for malware, and then examine every app you download from this day forward. The same free app can also back up your personal contacts and locate your phone on a map if it is lost or stolen. And we think that’s the opposite of useless.

  1. Vess says:

    I wouldn’t go as far as to claim that viruses are impossible for Android…

    True, parasitic viruses (that infect existing apps) are fairly difficult to make, because they would have to re-sign the infected package on the device. However, a self-contained worm that spreads as a stand-alone app and doesn’t infect other apps seems perfectly possible to me; in fact I’m surprised that we haven’t seen one already.

  2. Scott says:

    This article is pointless. It is just “native advertising”. The article basically points out all the reasons you DONT need any anti-virus type software on Android. And Adrian Ludwig, Google’s Android Security Chief has said on multiple occasions that 99% of basic users need no additional protection software outside that which is already provided by Google. He said, “I don’t think 99% plus users even get a benefit from [anti-virus]” and went on to say, “There’s certainly no reason that they need to install something in addition to [the security we provide]. If I were in a line of work where I need that type of protection it would make sense for me to do that. [But] do I think the average user on Android needs to install [anti-virus]? Absolutely not.”

    The idea that you need any additional protection for your Android phone outside of common sense and what is already provided at an OS level by Google is one that was made up, by companies like Lookout in an attempt to make more money. The whole idea is to scare users into thinking they need this and giving examples of horror stories (that are commonly overexagerated and sometimes flat out fiction) to scare people into getting their software. If you examine the permissions needed by Lookout you will find some very questionable permissions and their “explanation page” does nothing but skirt around the reasons theyre needed.

    An example: Contacts/Calendar…. they start their explanation with a cute, we wont call your grandma, quip but then claim they back up your contacts to their servers so that, “you can access them at”…but I thought this was Anti-Virus, and yet they want to add as many features to it as possible. Your contacts and your calendar and personal information that they host on their server is used to create advertising metrics and demographics that get sold to 3rd party companies. The actual anti-virus protection portion of the app should not need your personal contacts and should not be sending/storing/saving your personal stuff to their servers. Their servers are likely not encrypted or secured poorly, and frankly, there are far better apps for storing your personal data on the cloud, or for finding your lost phone (a feature default in Android). If there was any actual benefit to scanning your phone’s files and running them against current definitions, then I might be able to advocate a protection program, but its been proven and explained 100s of times by the people who built the OS that there is no benefit to doing this. It simply isnt how it works.

    Please people, educate yourselfs and do not fall for this malarkey, its all about the money for them, and when you dont pay it up front, you pay for it much worse behind the curtain.

  3. Jack Mosca says:

    Are update necessary for lookout ?

  4. Rob LaPointe says:

    Have you looked at the permissions these “antivirus” apps request? They’re equivalent to spyware!

    Unfortunately it’s not limited to just this category of apps. Many apps on both Android and iOS have access to a scary amount of information. Apple and Google have built massive spyware markets on these smartphone platforms.

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