With more than 2 billion active Android devices in the world, odds are good that you have one. If it’s running slower than usual and there are all kinds of weird apps on it, you probably have malware, too. In this article, we’re going to show you how to remove malware from Android phones.
Android is an open source OS, which means anyone can look at its source code. That allows companies to customize it and developers to quickly learn how to code apps for it. The downside to an open source system is that anyone can access the underlying code, which makes it easy for those who want to create malware for Android phones to do so.
Given that, you need to learn how to identify signs of malware and fix the problem to keep yourself safe. Read on to learn how to clean up your Android and protect yourself from attacks in the future. If you just want to know more about malware, check out our guide to cybercrime.
Is Your Android Infected with Malware?
One of the first signs that your phone has malware is sluggish performance. That could mean malware is operating in the background and tying up system resources, but that’s not necessarily the case. You could have too many apps open at once or your phone might just be getting old and slowing down.
Another symptom is a fast-draining battery. If your phone hasn’t lost speed, it’s possible malware is working in the background, even when the screen is off. That’s one explanation for a battery that quickly runs out of juice. Other causes might be that you’re overworking your phone by having a lot of apps running in the background or the battery is aged and needs replaced.
There are more obvious indicators, too. If you start seeing strange pop-ups, a mysterious increase in data usage, or charges on your bill for services you didn’t order, chances are you’re dealing with malware.
As you can see, many symptoms of malware can have more benign causes. Without an antivirus program, there’s no sure way to know whether your phone is infected. That said, if you’re seeing the signs, there’s reason to investigate.
How to Remove Malware from Android
There are two ways to remove malware from an Android device: the easy way and the hard way. We’re going to walk you through both, so you can choose the method that works best for you.
The Easy Way
Few people secure their computers without using antivirus software and you shouldn’t treat your Android any different. The application will serve as your first line of defense against malware and remove it. Below, we will look at some of the best antivirus software to protect your device.
Android comes with an antivirus called Google Play Protect. Independent testing found that it was only 51.8 percent effective against malware, though, so using it leaves your phone vulnerable.
If you’re serious about security, you need a more effective program. Our best antivirus for Android article is a good place to start if you want to shop around or are unfamiliar with antivirus apps for mobile devices.
Our top pick for Android is Kaspersky Mobile Anti-Virus. We’re going to walk you through how to use it to remove malware next. If you want to learn more about the app, read our Kaspersky Anti-Virus Review.
The best way to get Kaspersky Mobile Anti-Virus is downloading it from the Google Play store. While you can get advanced features with Kaspersky’s paid version for $2.50 per month, you can just as easily detect and remove malware using the free version.
When you open the app for the first time, it will update to get the latest information on Android viruses.
From the main menu, you can scan your device for malware by clicking on the “scan” button in the lower left corner of the screen.
There are more features available by tapping the arrow in the lower-right corner if you opt for the premium monthly plan.
Next, you’ll be asked to choose between a “quick scan,” “full scan” or “file scan.”
A quick scan checks all the apps on your phone. If you’ve downloaded an app from outside the Google Play store, you’ll want to run this one to make sure it’s safe.
A full scan is slower, but scans all the apps and files on your device. That makes it the best option if you’re not sure how you got the virus or where it’s operating from.
A file scan can be a good choice when you are suspicious of a single file. If you’ve downloaded it from a sketchy contact or need to scan incoming business files for security, this is the option to choose. Just select the file you want and Kaspersky will scan it for malware.
If Kaspersky detects a virus, it will give you the option to block the file.
Doing so prevents the file from running, but doesn’t remove it from your device. That gives you the opportunity to research it before removing it.
Since antiviruses occasionally determine normal files are viruses, you don’t want to blindly follow their lead. Though unlikely, there’s a chance that a file identified as such is vital to your device’s operation. That’s why it’s important to do a search for the name of it online if you don’t know what it is. Someone will know about it if it’s malware.
That is the easiest way to remove viruses from your device, but if you don’t want to or can’t install an app, there is another method.
The Hard Way
If you know which file or app is responsible for the virus, you can remove it on your own.
If a single file is at fault, you can use your phone’s file browser to navigate to it, press and hold on the icon to bring up options, then choose the one that says “delete.”
Apps can be trickier, though, because they can be coded to frustrate your efforts to remove them.
If you know an app is the problem, the first thing you need to do is restart your phone in safe mode. That will prevent apps not made by your device’s manufacturer, your carrier or Google from running.
How you start in safe mode varies from model to model, so you may have to search for the steps online. The most common way to do so is holding your power button until the power menu appears. It can look different depending on the device. Here’s an example from a Galaxy S9.
When you see it, hold the “power off” option until you are given the choice to restart in safe mode. Tap it once.
After your phone restarts, navigate to “settings,” then “apps.”
This menu lists all the apps installed on your phone. Scroll until you find the app with the virus.
Duolingo is a safe application, but, for this article, we’re going to use it to show you the process for removing malware from your Android device. Select the app in the list to be taken to a page where you can click “uninstall” to remove it.
If the “uninstall” option is grayed out, the app has gained administrator privileges, so you’ll have to remove them to delete it.
Navigate to “settings,” “security” or “lock screen and security,” depending on the model, then go to “other security settings” and, finally, “device admin apps.”
There, you’ll find apps that have or can use administrator privileges as well as grant or revoke them.
Retract the app’s administrator privileges, and then repeat the above steps to uninstall the app.
How to Protect Android from Malware
To defend yourself against malware in the future, invest in an antivirus program with real-time protection. The premium version of Kaspersky Mobile Anti-Virus has that feature. Another option is Avast Mobile Security, which is free and also made our list of the best antiviruses for Android.
Common sense is another good approach. For example, not installing sketchy applications on your device will go a long way. Since every app submitted to the Google Play store is vetted before users can download it, they’re your safest bet.
We like Avast’s desktop version a lot, so if you’re interested in learning more about it, check out our Avast Pro review. The mobile version has a WiFi network scanner that looks for threats on public WiFi before you connect, which can help you avoid risks commonly associated with them.
F-Secure Safe Mobile, another entry on our best antiviruses for Android list, is a good option for parents because of its parental controls. Plus, its browsing protection feature will limit exposure to malicious websites as you or your kids surf the web. It’s not a standalone product, though. You have to get a multi-device package. Read our F-Secure Antivirus review to learn more.
You shouldn’t view good phone security as optional. Android is open source and that means anyone interested in taking advantage of an insecure phone has the information they need to so do. The OS is much more customizable than Apple’s iOS operating system, but at the cost of software vulnerabilities.
Don’t let yourself fall victim to malware and suffer a slow device, short battery life or expensive charges on your bill that you didn’t clear. Getting antivirus software is critical to preventing those problems. Using one of the best VPN for Android would add another layer of protection, too.
We hope these methods for removing malware from your device help. If you have any questions or other tips for tackling malware on Android, let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading.