XDA Basics: Does your Android smartphone need an antivirus app?
Android is not just the biggest mobile operating system in the world, it’s the biggest OS — period. Such a large user base makes it a juicy target for cyber-criminals, which is why there are often reports about Android malware, adware, and other not-so-nice things. Such reports make people afraid and they rush to the one thing we’ve all grown up hearing about — an antivirus app. But do you really need an antivirus on Android, or are Android’s built-in protections enough?
What are some of the built-in security protections in Android by Google?
Google constantly improves the security of Android, and with each version, we see the company announce new under-the-hood changes to further enhance it. The company also ships built-in malware protection — Google Play Protect — on Android devices with GMS. Moreover, the company releases monthly Android security updates that are meant to fix possible issues affecting Android devices.
Google Play Protect
Play Protect is Google Play’s built-in malware protection for Android. It was first released with Android 8.0 Oreo, and now comes with every Android device that has Google Play Services version 11 or newer installed on it. Think of it as your pre-installed antivirus on devices with Google .
According to Google, Play Protect is backed by the company’s machine learning algorithms and it improves itself in realtime. Meaning, as it scans billions of devices around the world, it’s constantly incorporating what it’s learning from these scan results. It automatically scans both apps installed via the Play Store, and ones downloaded via third-party services. You can also manually run Play Protect to scan your Android device. If it finds something, it’ll notify you. It can also block a malicious app until you uninstall it or directly remove it, depending on the threat.
Like every other anti-malware out there, Google Play Protect isn’t perfect, and every once in a while, some things do slip past it.
Monthly Security updates
While Play Protect watches out for malware that comes riding in on apps, the monthly security updates fix the vulnerabilities identified in AOSP, Linux kernel, and SoCs. Google, SoC manufacturers, and the Linux open-source community release patches for the bugs in their systems, and the device manufacturers use these patches and pass them on to their users as device updates.
This is one area where Android security slightly suffers, as not all device manufacturers are proactive in shipping monthly security updates. Older devices are often left to fend for themselves.
Does Android need an antivirus?
As we’ve explained so far, Android has a number of protections to deal with threats, like malware, adware, and other viruses. So, do you need an antivirus on Android? The answer for most people is no.
If you have a device that comes with Google services, if you only use Google Play to download apps, and you’re reasonably careful while dealing with unknown links and suspicious emails, Android’s built-in protections are going to be good enough for you. You don’t need to download any third-party antivirus application.
Although antivirus products on Android have come a long way, even the antivirus products from renowned companies will still consume 3 to 8 percent of your battery as well as other system resources. So there’s no point installing something that’s going to be of no use to you and also hogs vital aspects of your phone.
However, if one or more of the following things apply to you, an anti-virus app may be of some use.
- Your Android device doesn’t come with Google services, like one of the newer Huawei phones or you’ve installed an aftermarket firmware and have chosen to use it without Google services.
- You install APKs from untrustworthy sources.
- You visit websites of disrepute.
- You aren’t able to discern between a suspicious link and a trustworthy link.
- You’re using a really old Android device with no Google Play Protect.
If you need an antivirus on Android, AV-Comparatives, which is an independent organization that tests anti-virus products for different platforms, recommends the likes of Bitdefender, Trend Micro, AVG, and Kaspersky. Don’t just install any antivirus from Google Play — most of them don’t actually do anything.
Overall, for most of you out there, Google provides a sufficient amount of protection for Android, so you don’t have to worry about an antivirus. Like any platform, Google’s security enhancements aren’t perfect and some things are bound to slip past them. Having said that, it doesn’t necessarily mean an antivirus will able to be catch it either. For those of you without Google’s protections, however, an antivirus can be of help.
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