Just because your phone isn’t running a full desktop operating system, that doesn’t mean it can’t get infected with debilitating malware. In fact, your Android phone is vulnerable to several kinds of malware, so it’s a good idea to be familiar with the warning signs — and know what to do to remove malware from your phone. Here are the most common signs of infection and what to do about it.
First, the good news: There are currently no Android viruses, and it’s unlikely that your phone will get infected with a true computer virus anytime soon. But a virus is one very specific form of malware, and there are other kinds of malware that your phone can get infected with, including adware, ransomware, scareware, spyware, and Trojans.
Nonetheless, most people still just refer to malware as a virus. With that in mind, beware these signs your Android device has some kind of malware.
If friends, family, and co-workers report that they are receiving spam messages, there are a few possibilities — most of them not good news. Your phone might have malware that has hijacked your email accounts, for example, or your email account itself might be hacked. Either way, if you hear from multiple people that there’s something unusual happening with your email, consider that you have malware.
Adware is, as the name suggests, a kind of malware designed to display lots of ads. Most adware isn’t subtle, and so you may notice a dramatic increase in the number of pop-ups (usually when running Chrome) after getting infected. Worse, some adware is also scareware — the messages you see will warn that you’re infected with malware or your phone is otherwise not working properly, and offer to fix it for a fee.
Even if you have a lot of apps on your phones, you probably are familiar with most of the ones you see on your home screen. If you see new app icons that you don’t recognize, that might mean that malware has installed apps without your permission.
Malware can run down your battery quickly for a number of reasons, including the fact that it might be doing a lot of online activity, and it’s poorly designed with no regard for conserving your phone’s battery or processor. As a result, a similar sign of malware is if your phone tends to heat up even when you’re not doing processor-intensive tasks.
Likewise, malware may be causing your phone to upload and download a lot of data in the background, which can cause your data usage to spike unexpectedly. Keep an eye on your data usage and, if your cell plan doesn’t offer unlimited data, watch out for data limit notifications or overage charges.
Most common apps probably don’t crash very often, so if you start to see notifications that apps are crashing frequently, suspect malware. As indicated earlier, a lot of malware is poorly designed and buggy, often suffering from incompatibilities with other common apps and Android itself. The bottom line: Malware is likely to crash a lot more than legitimate apps you are used to using.
If your phone is exhibiting some of the symptoms of malware and you suspect you might be infected, there are a few steps you can take to clean your phone and rid it of malware.
Because malware often attacks your web browser, the first thing you should try is to clear your web browser’s cache. This can eliminate malware resident in the phone’s memory. The specific steps might vary slightly depending on what model phone you own, but you should be able to find your cache settings following these steps:
1. Start the Settings app.
2. Tap Apps.
3. Go to the list of apps (you might need to tap See all apps) and tap Chrome (or whichever browser you use).
4. Tap Storage & cache.
5. Tap Clear cache.
6. Tap Manage space, then Clear All Data.
Malware might have installed malicious software on your phone, and it may not be possible to delete those apps in the usual way. Instead, you can restart your phone in safe mode — which starts the phone with minimal apps and services so you can delete apps before malware has an opportunity to start.
The method to start safe mode may vary depending on your model phone, so you might need to search online to find out your phone’s exact procedure. But this should work for many models: From the lock screen, press and hold the Power button until you see the shut down screen appear. Tap and hold the Power Off button. After a moment, you should see the option to restart the phone in safe mode. Select it.
When the phone restarts in safe mode, third-party apps (including most malware) are disabled. Look for any potentially unwanted apps and delete them.
Play Protect is Google’s free anti-malware app that checks your phone for the presence of malware and malware-like behavior from your third-party apps. If you’re not already using Google Play Protect, you should enable it from the Google Play store right away.
In general, installing third-party anti-malware software on your Android phone might be considered overkill. For most people, the risk of infection is relatively low, so paying for anti-malware software might not be a good investment. But if you are already infected or have been infected in the past, extra protection might be warranted. Some excellent options include Bitdefender Total Security and Norton Antivirus Plus.
If all else fails, one sure way to remove malware from your phone is to reset it to factory conditions. This removes all apps, data, and settings from the phone, so use this option with caution. Start the Settings app and choose Reset options (you may have to navigate to System first, depending on your phone), then choose Erase all data (factory reset).
After the reset, you can reinstall your apps and data from a recent backup, but if the malware was already in the backup, you’ll simply reinfect your phone again. If so, you’ll need to reset the phone a second time and then reinstall your favorite apps manually, without using the backup.
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