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How to detect and remove malware from an Android device

Mobile malware can come in many forms, but users might not know how to identify it. Understand the signs of malware on mobile devices, as well as what to do to remove the threat.

Malware is a major concern with any enterprise endpoint, and mobile administrators should be aware of how to detect and remove this threat on Android devices.

Mobile devices can be a significant risk surface in the enterprise, and organizations shouldn't ignore how vulnerable they can be to the malicious attacks that cybercriminals design to steal data. Mobile malware can come in many forms, including spyware, ransomware and Trojan horses. Newer tactics have also emerged, such as smishing (SMS phishing), a type of attack in which hackers send an infected text message to a smartphone to trick the user into downloading malware to the device.

These types of malware can cause significant harm by stealing sensitive corporate and end-user data, disrupting operations, damaging hardware or exposing confidential information. To avoid these dangers, organizations must understand the risks of mobile malware and take measures to protect their devices.

Mobile malware prevention measures include implementing strong security protocols such as authentication and authorization requirements, enforcing security and encryption policies through mobile device management (MDM) and using mobile threat detection and antimalware tools. Additionally, organizations should educate their users on how to recognize threats and what steps to take if they encounter suspicious activity. By taking these proactive steps, organizations can protect themselves against the damage caused by malware on any mobile device.

Are Android devices susceptible to malware?

The Android operating system is not inherently a security threat. However, Android devices are susceptible to malware for a few reasons. First, Android is Open Source, meaning any developer can access the code and create applications with malicious intent. Second, Android has a large global market share, making it a large target for potential attacks.

One of the additional challenges with the Android ecosystem is that there are many different device manufacturers and carriers, each of which plays an important role in releasing software updates for their devices. This can result in a fragmented ecosystem of devices running outdated or unpatched versions of Android.

However, Google has made efforts to improve the security of Android by providing monthly security patches and Google Play Protect, which scans apps for malware during and after their installation. Additionally, Google introduced the Android Enterprise Recommended program. This certification program works directly with manufacturers to certify devices with Android OS version requirements, enterprise-grade features such as management and encryption, performance standards and regular security updates.

What are the signs of malware on Android devices?

When it comes to detecting malware on an Android device, there are several signs that users and IT professionals should pay close attention to. A performance issue such as slow performance is sometimes more than just an annoying inconvenience and is actually the result of a malware infection.

Unusually high data usage

Malware often runs in the background of a device, consuming data behind the scenes. If an Android phone's data usage suddenly spikes or its battery is draining unusually quickly, it might have a malware infection.

If users notice any new apps installed on their phones that they did not download themselves, the apps could contain malicious code.

Unexpected app installations

Malicious apps often install themselves on phones without users' knowledge. If users notice any new apps installed on their phones that they did not download themselves, the apps could contain malicious code. A recent example is the influx of fake ChatGPT apps hitting app stores, acting as Trojan horses, infecting devices with malware and potentially stealing files, text messages, call records and more.

Unfamiliar ads or pop-ups

Adware is used to display unwanted ads on a device, typically in the form of pop-up windows or banners. This not only annoys and reduces the productivity of end users but also consumes device resources, causing slowdowns. These pop-up ads can also steal personal information. If end users start seeing ads for products and services they didn't search for or see unfamiliar prompts asking for personal information, this could indicate that there is malware on the device.

Degraded performance

If a device suddenly starts slowing down, this could indicate a malware infection. Some types of mobile malware are designed to perform actions that consume device resources, such as CPU and memory, which can slow down the device and, in some cases, cause it to become unresponsive.

By being aware of these signs, users can quickly and accurately identify malware on their Android devices. If any of these signs are present, it's crucial to take action to remove the malicious software and protect the device from future threats.

How to remove mobile malware from an Android device

Malware can be a severe security threat, so knowing how to detect and remove malware from a device is essential. Mobile threat detection and MDM tools can help to both prevent and eliminate threats, and there are a few other steps that admins can take if malware persists.

Utilize mobile threat detection tools

The first step is to be proactive with security. One of the first steps in detecting and removing malware is to use tools such as mobile threat detection to identify and prevent threats. These tools scan the device to detect malicious apps, network attacks and other vulnerabilities in real time. IT admins can also scan devices by using antivirus apps or other mobile security tools, such as Microsoft Defender for Endpoint, Lookout, Zimperium and Bitdefender. Organizations should look for apps that provide real-time protection and detection of malicious websites and links.

Enforce security policies through MDM

Either in the Android settings or through their organization's MDM platform, admins should turn off Allowing app installs from Unknown Sources. Unlike Apple, Android allows end users to install third-party apps. While this has become harder to do and involves more steps with newer versions of Android, allowing the installation of apps from unknown sources can introduce security risks: Unmanaged apps could contain malware or other harmful code that can compromise a device's security and privacy.

By enforcing this policy, admins can prevent users from installing apps from untrusted sources and ensure that only approved apps from the Google Play Store or their MDM are allowed on the device. Other restrictions that admins can look into include disabling USB debugging and Mounting physical external media.

Additional steps to remove malware

There are a few more steps that users and admins can take to remove Android malware if a device is still exhibiting signs of an infection. First, users should uninstall any suspicious apps. If an app looks suspicious or behaves oddly, it might be infected with malware, and uninstalling the app might remove the source of the problem.

Another step is to update the device. Users should always keep their Android devices up to date to ensure they have the latest security patches installed and reduce the risk of infection from any new malware. If all else fails, a factory reset might be necessary to completely remove the malware from the device.

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