How to Remove Hidden Malware from Your Android Phone

When your phone is hacked, you need to act fast. Here’s how to tell if your Android has been infected with a virus—and how to get rid of it.

We’re on our phones more than ever before, often conducting sensitive business on them—and, unfortunately, cybercriminals know this all too well. They target our phones with viruses known as malware in the hopes of getting their hands on our personal information and possibly even stealing our identities. While this is a huge mobile security threat for all smartphones, it’s a particular issue for Androids, and we often can’t detect the problem until it’s too late. But there are some simple ways to spot and remove a virus on an Android phone.

Before we dive into the details, though, you might be wondering why Androids are so vulnerable. “Android phones have the kind of architecture that is good if you are a web developer, but [it] allows more leeway for malware,” says Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy and the vice chair for technology of the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City. “About half of all existing malware (including computers) is found on Android phones. In other words, the Android operating system hosts about half of the world’s malware infections. The iPhone is less than 1 percent!”

It’s vital for Android users to get informed, now more than ever. Cybercrime has skyrocketed during the COVID-19 pandemic. More than 223,000 COVID-19-related online fraud or scam claims were received by the FTC in 2020, with estimated losses topping $160 million. Here’s how to get rid of a virus on your Android phone and make sure that you don’t become a statistic.

Are viruses bad for phones?

In a word, yes. Malware is software deliberately created to exploit, harvest, and harm your smartphone. Malware (short for “malicious software”) can extract personal and sensitive info, opening you up to fraud and identity theft. Mobile malware infects your phone with malicious apps, spam, and online advertising badgering you for clicks. It can also slow down your phone, heat it up, and run up your bills.

What kinds of viruses and malware can be hidden on Android phones?

Cybercriminals have quite a few weapons in their online arsenal. They include viruses (malicious software attached to a document or email that you might click unknowingly), worms (software programs that get into your system through a downloaded file and rapidly multiply), and adware (which tracks your browser and downloads your history so it can display targeted pop-ups and banner ads). There’s also spyware, which monitors your online activities to find out your passwords, track the physical location of your phone, and more.

Another scary scenario is having your phone held hostage by ransomware. In this scenario, criminals use a “Trojan horse,” which looks like legitimate software, to lure you into clicking something that freezes your phone. You can only get it “unfrozen” by paying a ransom of Bitcoin. Hackers have also recently been using this technique by tapping into virtual schooling to steal your information.

Signs your Android phone may have a virus or hidden malware

The first step in the battle against malware is to know that it’s there. Here’s what you should look for:

  • Your phone is suddenly operating a lot slower than it normally does.
  • Your apps take a long time to load.
  • You spot a new app you don’t recall downloading.
  • Your battery drains incredibly fast.
  • You’re constantly seeing ad pop-ups.
  • Your phone bills are higher and, upon closer examination, show you sent SMS messages to premium-rate services you don’t remember ever contacting.

How do I check for viruses on my Android phone?

If you suspect that your Android may have been compromised, you need to take action immediately. Wandt suggests getting a malware detection program, which will alert you to the presence of viruses and other problems through a scan of your phone. One company he recommends is Avast. Norton and McAfee also offer reliable detection programs.

How do I get rid of a virus on my Android phone?

The same companies that check for malware on your Android also often offer programs that can remove it, sometimes for free and sometimes for a price. It’s not easy to outsmart the cybercrooks, though, and you may need to take more drastic measures. If you’ve run an anti-malware program but you’re still not comfortable with how your phone is working due to a possible infestation or you have suspicions that someone has installed spyware, you can factory reset your Android. Just be aware that when you do this, you’ll lose photos, text messages, passwords, and contact lists. You can’t back up everything, because the malware could creep into the backup, but you can store photos and contacts on separate documents or drives. Here’s the best Android cloud storage.

Do I need virus protection on my phone?

Experts recommend installing anti-virus software programs on your phone, but the truth is, cybercrooks are cunning and new malware has a way of finding its way onto phones. One recent study found that malware accounted for one-third of all cybercrime costs. By all means, install anti-virus protection from companies like Norton, but you should also take a few additional security measures. For example, run Android updates to replace programs with more secure versions, don’t install apps from unknown sources, and be careful what you click. Vigilance is your best weapon in the war against malware. Next, find out how to stop spam texts on your Android.

Sources:

  • Adam Scott Wandt, an assistant professor of public policy and the vice chair for technology of the Department of Public Management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice
  • Accenture Newsroom: “Malware and Malicious Insiders Accounted for One-Third of All Cybercrime Costs Last Year, According to Report from Accenture and Ponemon Institute”