Android Malware: Should You Be Concerned?

July 8th, 2011 Leave a comment
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Android Malware

There have been, recently, a fair number of apps pulled from the Android market because they were, in fact, malware; they would dial pay numbers and do other shady things, including stealing contacts. Though Google has since pulled these apps from the market, the lingering, uncomfortable question remains:

Should we be worried about Android malware?

The question is difficult to answer because of the layers of meaning in that question, but for the most part we can say this: though no computing platform is ever truly safe, Android users who do not stray from the official Android markets will, for the most part, be quite safe. Even though those malware apps were uploaded to the market, the chances of that happening are very rare, and even Apple’s much-vaunted App Store vetting process has, once or twice, fallen prey to a similar malware infestation (though Apple, like Google, has been very efficient at purging the problem).

The real problem lies in apps installed from unknown sources, especially pirated apps; these apps come from black market app stores that do not vetting for malware (and in fact often turn a blind eye to it). The real danger from Android malware is not catching an infection from the official Market, which is, for the most part, overwhelmingly safe; the real danger is installing an app from an untrusted source or shady market, which is almost certainly going to contain some sort of malware in it. This is especially true of apps from black market sources, who offer pirated apps in the hopes that users will download them, malware included.

Beyond that, however, Android has so far been fairly good at not having exploits or exploitable behaviors on its system. Though its permission system could be a little more fine-tuned (something well-done, ironically, by the Android aftermarket ROM Cyanogen) there has been, so far, no way to exploit an Android system to gain privileges that weren’t given by the user; a user has the ability to deny installation to any program that he or she thinks is asking for more permissions than it deserves, and this feature makes the Android system secure as long as the user makes sure to read the prompts that appear when an outside (or market) application is installed.

In the end, then, there is no reason to be extraordinarily scared by any sort of malware that’s running rampant on the Android operating system. Like any other OS, malware can insert itself by tricking the user or claiming to be something it isn’t; it cannot, however, install itself or gain any privileges that the user didn’t grant it. This is a threat that, while present, doesn’t require any great lengths for prevention; those of you looking to install anti-malware on your phone need not do so. The only anti-malware required on Android, at least for the moment, is some common sense, preventative reading, and avoidance of shady, untrusted app sources when it comes to installing your Android apps!

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