6 ways to protect yourself against Android malware

It's easier to avoid getting victimized than you might think. Here's how.

A disturbing report from RiskIQ says that malicious Android apps in Google Play have leaped nearly 400% since 2011, with Google removing fewer and fewer of them. But you don't need to be at the mercy of the bad guys. Here are six ways to protect yourself against Android malware.

Install the right anti-malware

I know, telling you to do this is like your mother telling you to eat your broccoli. But your mother was right, and this piece of advice is right as well. There's a good chance that you don't have anti-malware installed -- IDC reports that a mere 5% of smartphones and tablets have anti-malware on them.

Make sure that you get a good one, such as McAfee Mobile Security, Norton Mobile Security, Trend Micro Security, or BitDefender. Every one of those I just listed has received top protection ratings from the independent security test site AV Test. Here's where to see the latest results on which Android anti-malware is best.

Stick with reputable Android stores

There are a lot of Android stores out there, not all of them reliable. Juniper Networks has found that third-party Android stores "have become a favored distribution channel for malware writers," and "are are the leading source of the most common type of Android malware, fake Installers, which pose as legitimate applications."

In addition to Google Play, Amazon and Samsung have reliable Android stores. If your carrier has one, it's reliable as well. But be leery of others.

Beware of sideloading

With sideloading, you bypass the normal download-and-install process, and instead download an .apk file, which you then manually install. That's dangerous unless you're downloading the .apk file from a large, well-known developer, and only if you download it directly from the developer's Web site.

Stay away from pirated apps

Everyone likes to save a few bucks, but don't be tempted to install pirated apps. They may well contain malware, because it's easy for someone to bind a piece of malware to a legitimate app and then post it for download. So that pirated game you're downloading could end up stealing your identity.

Carefully examine apps and permissions before installing

It's easy to check out apps before you install them. Read user reviews, and be leery of any app that has very few reviews. Also be careful of any apps that has few downloads, because it may not have been around long enough to be detected as malware.

During the download process and before installation, carefully read the permissions that the app will use. If something doesn't seem right with the permissions, don't install it. If a video player's permissions says that it can send text messages, make sure there's a truly legitimate reason for it, for example.

Upgrade to the latest version of Android

Android's latest version will be the safest version, so update to it if possible. Note the "if possible." Manufacturers typically layer their own software on top of Android or add additional features, which means your device may not be able to be updated. Still, it's a good idea to always try.

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