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Android Antivirus Apps: Are They Useful Against Viruses?

Android antivirus apps are a waste of phone resources. They’re just there, running in the background, eating into your phone’s RAM. When I got my first Android phone, I tried some of these apps sparingly, till I realized their worthlessness and uninstalled them all. I’m not trying to spoil market for the vendors, but I’m just telling you the plain ugly truth just the way it is.

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Have you ever scanned your phone, and it detected any malware? You soon discover you’re the one that ends up spending your data (and money) to update the god dammed virus database.

The concept of malware on Android is a misconception, a fallacy, an empty threat, a farce, used to capitalize on the gullible public, wooing them to the notion that viruses and malware are a serious threat (especially on Android). I’m not saying they don’t exist. They do exist, but chances are, you have never and will never experience it throughout your use of an Android phone.

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There’s something I’d like to clarify concerning this delusion around Android antivirus apps. I did a little reading, and understood that on Android, all apps installed run in a sandbox.

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What is a sandbox?

In computers and computer security, a sandbox is a security mechanism for separating running programs. It is often used to test untrusted programs from unverified third-parties, untrusted users and untrusted websites. The sandbox specifies an amount of system resources for the programs to run on, such as scratch space on disk and memory. This tells you that sandboxes is a specific example of virtualization.

On Android OS, applications make use of a sandbox to avoid sharing personal information. The sandbox for a specific app is an isolated area of the operating system that does not have access to the rest of the system’s resources, unless access permissions are granted by the user when the application is installed. Before installing an application, the Play Store displays all required permissions. A game, for instance, may need to enable vibration, but should not have access to your phone book. By reviewing these permissions, the user can decide whether to install the application, or not.

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The Android sandboxing and permissions system is made to weaken the impact of vulnerabilities and bugs in applications, but developer confusion, limited documentation and little awareness has resulted in applications routinely requesting unnecessary permissions, thereby reducing its effectiveness.

What we’re saying in essence is that Android antivirus apps runs on the same framework as every other app in your phone, and this is the wrong approach. Isn’t it expected that Antivirus should run below the sandbox? To be able to scan deeply and fish out viruses (If there’s any in the first place). Or does it mean one has to root his device to (give the app superuser permission) enable the app to go under and wipe out viruses? Antivirus apps are sandboxed just like every other app on your phone, and this is the wrong protocol. That’s why you can scan from now till tomorrow, you won’t find a thing.

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I wasn’t surprised when news was circulating, Virus Shield a very popular Antivirus app was a scam. Thousands paid for the app which cost $4, and they discovered the app does nothing. The app code was shredded to verify this.

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Looking at the good side

These antivirus apps aren’t entirely useless. They carry extra features that compensate for the dormancy of the virus scanning feature. For instance, Avast has a network meter to measure incoming/outgoing data transfers. App locking is great at locking apps with a PIN/gesture. SMS and Call Filter is used to block numbers and maintain your privacy. Backup of contacts,sms/call logs, photos etc. Find my Phone: Anti-Theft feature to help track your phone when it is lost or stolen.

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N also has almost similar features like App Scanner/Manager, Call and SMS Blocker, Task killers, Backup/Restore feature (both cloud and offline) and a host of other similar features. So if you can still endure using it, continue to. But keep it at the back of your mind that it is not a true antivirus app.

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What can you do to keep safe

  • Be careful with rooting your phone: Rooting voids your phone’s warranty, and grants your installed apps superuser permission. This means that your apps can go wild and do whatever they please. So if you are rooted, make sure you have an app like Super Su or Super User installed. This helps you have control over any app that wants superuser access.
  • Mind the apps you install: You are safe to install apps from Google Play Store, but we all know Android is an open ecosystem, so there are hundreds of app stores and APK files all over the internet. So if you must install anything from the wild, be sure of what you’re installing and go through its lists of permissions.
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