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October 31, 2017

How to Recognize & Stop Android Malware Apps in Their Tracks

Malware can render a perfectly good phone useless when you don’t take action to recognize and stop harmful apps on your phone. Just days ago, the Sockbot malware posed as an innocent Minecraft skin app, targeting unsuspecting users so it could connect to a proxy and run ad fraud scams through victims’ phones. The stream of new malware schemes never ends.Luckily, even the latest iPhone is largely immune to major malware threats, so if you’re a diehard Apple fan, you can stop worrying right now. But that leaves a staggering 97 percent of all smartphone malware on Android devices. If you’re an Android user, you need to take action right now to diagnose and address malware before it causes a problem. Unfortunately, it’s not always easy to recognize a malware app in time, especially if you aren’t educated about what malware looks like. Often, malware looks perfectly legitimate on the surface, until you dig deeper and find little clues underneath. Here’s what you need to know about recognizing, preventing, and stopping Android malware apps before it’s too late:

Check the User Feedback

Before you click the “download” button, take some time to read through Play Store reviews rather than relying on a four- or five-star rating to give you accurate information about an app’s legitimacy.It’s common for malware developers to pad Play Store ratings by enlisting fake reviewers, so you see a great overall rating and assume that the app is safe to download. Often, if you read past the last few reviews on a malware app, you’ll stumble upon real, negative reviews that reveal the app’s true purpose.

Consult a Third-Party Database

If you want to go a step above while doing your due diligence, consult a research database that includes only apps that they’ve personally approved using their own rigorous cybersecurity standards. NSS Labs is one; West Coast Labs is another.You don’t have to cross-check every app that you install with a third-party database. These databases are limited, and they often only include apps that are often faked or mimicked and could collect sensitive personal information, such as banking apps or password management apps.Your favorite gaming apps probably won’t be on the list simply because they haven’t been tested, not because they aren’t safe. But do cross-check apps that have the potential to cause serious damage to your identity if the information were leaked.

Run Anti-Malware Software

A great way to boost your phone’s cybersecurity performance is to install anti-malware software and keep it running in the background all the time, where it constantly checks new files that your phone installs or accesses, and alerts you if anything is amiss. Some anti-malware software automatically quarantines suspect files and notifies you so you can take a look and take the right course of action immediately.If performance is an issue with software constantly running security checks in the background, then you can compromise. Install an anti-malware app and run regularly-scheduled scans, rather than letting it work proactively 24/7. Obviously, it’s best to have continuous protection, but not all phones are set up with processors that can handle that kind of activity, especially if you’re a heavy media user already.Some favorite anti-malware apps for Android include:

Don’t Touch Android’s Native Security Settings

What’s great about Android phones is that you can’t get hit by a drive-by malware infection like you can on a PC. There’s no such thing as visiting the wrong website and ending up with a Trojan virus.You have to physically choose to download any app, and if a website tries to prompt you to install an app via APK rather than via the Play Store, you have to override an Android security notification that warns you about the risk. You do this by going into Settings and choosing “Allow unknown sources.”You can minimize risk simply by choosing to leave that box unchecked, which it is by default. As long as the box is unchecked, your phone is incapable of downloading or installing apps that aren’t part of the Play Store. This doesn’t leave you invulnerable; you still have to exercise caution while browsing the Play Store to make sure you’re only choosing safe apps. But it does decrease the level of risk significantly.

Keep Your Phone Updated

Android constantly evaluates the state of cybersecurity and implements fixes or patches as necessary to help keep your device (and your personal information) safe. For instance, during 2016’s Quadrooter fiasco, Android was on top of the issue from the start, rolling out fixes to help minimize vulnerability as soon as they were able to identify the problem.Typically, Android prompts you to download updates automatically. It’s simple: Always choose “Yes” when it prompts you to update. It’s too easy to keep clicking “Update later” and end up never actually getting the update until it’s too late and your phone’s infected.

So You Found Malware… Now What?

You’ve investigated app ratings, double-checked your Android security settings, and installed a quality antivirus app… and lo and behold, there’s already malware on your smartphone. Now what?If you found the malware by running an antivirus or anti-malware app, then chances are the the app’s already quarantined the problem and prompted you to delete or remove the associated files. Otherwise, the best course of action is to delete and uninstall the app completely through Settings > Apps, then run a security scan afterward through your anti-malware app to catch any potentially harmful files that the install may have left behind.In some cases, you address the problem but find that the malware still shows up as active when you run a scan to double-check after. This often happens because the malware requested and received Device Administrator rights during the installation process, which makes it extra-tricky to remove.No worries: if this is the case, go to Settings > Security and then choose Device Administrators. You’ll see Android Device Manager in the list, which is supposed to be there - don’t remove it. If you see the problem app, or other apps you don’t recognize, then remove them from the list, restart your phone, and repeat the uninstall process if the app is still listed under Settings > Apps. Problem solved!Now you’re better equipped to deal with malware, and hopefully prevent it from finding its way onto your Android smartphone at all! These tips are great for the average user, but if you’re a used smartphone dealer (small scale or large), you might find that it’s impossible to prove the quality of the phone even if you’ve done it all. In that case, a phone certification service such as PhoneCheck might be just the ticket for finishing the process of prepping each phone for sale.

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