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How to virus-proof your Android smartphone

Tips to keep your mobile device secure

Over the years, the security of the Android platform has come under a lot of scrutiny, with supporters claiming that you simply don't need anti-virus protection for your Android device. But threats to the Android platform have risen considerably in the last year with malware installation as the number one concern. So how do you protect your phone from this growing menace? Here are some simple tips to help keep your Android phone secure and reduce the risk of installing malware.

Only use apps from trusted sources

While Google Play is a great place to start, you shouldn't always assume that apps downloaded here are safe. In fact, anyone has the ability to upload their apps to the Google Play store, so you should always check reviews (both in the store itself and online) to check the validity of your apps before you install them. Generally, the higher the rating (and the more downloads an app has) the safer it is for you to download. Be wary of apps with little feedback and a small number of users - that's not to say they definitely contain malware, but you should be a bit more careful.

Check app permissions before installing

Every time you install an Android app you'll be presented with a list of all the permissions you're granting this app on your device. Most of the time, you won't need to bother with these, especially with Google Play featured apps or popular choices such as Facebook and Twitter. But if you think an app might be doing something it shouldn't, you should always check the permissions. Be wary of apps that request permissions to make calls, send messages or read contact data, especially if it isn't immediately obvious why they'd need to.

Disable unknown sources

By downloading an app from a third-party site and installing it yourself, you significantly increase the risk of installing malware on your Android phone. Obviously the best solution is simply to not do this, but malware distributors use a number of sneaky tactics to trick you into installing their software. One of the most common forms of malware distribution is by a fake system update sent via a seemingly harmless SMS, but this can be avoided by disabling the use of apps from unknown sources entirely. In Android 4.0 and higher, go to Security > Settings and make sure that 'Unknown sources' is unchecked. In earlier Android versions, this same option can be found in Settings > Applications.

Check updates before installing

While many of us take a stringent approach to installing apps, we often become complacent about installing updates. Always check the latest reviews for your apps before you update them. This can reveal possible security risks (such as the addition of malware) as well as any technical issues with the latest version of the app. And remember that every new update can include new permission requests, so check these too if an app is suspicious. Malware distributors have been known to create seemingly legitimate apps for the sole purpose of including malware in a later update.

Use an Anti-virus app

While many supporters of the Android platform claim that you simply don't need anti-virus protection for you Android device, there are some security apps that can really help secure your device. I highly recommend avast! Mobile Security, a completely free app that helps protect against malware as well as providing other security features such as Web Shield, Anti-Theft and even a network firewall. So if you suspect your phone might have malware installed, use this app to find out for sure.

Above all, use your common sense when installing apps for you Android device. The best way to keep your phone virus-free is to be cautious when downloading new apps and try not to use third-party apps that look or seem suspicious. Even if you install an anti-virus solution, don't think that gives you free reign to ignore these security tips - be vigilant and always know what you're downloading.

Have you ever had virus or malware problems with your Android device? What do you do to keep your phone secure?