November 29, 2013
Searching for signs of Android infection
How can you tell if your Android smartphone or tablet been pwned?
That was the question recently posed by one InformationWeek reader, who suspected that her phone had been compromised by attackers. "I've only owned my Droid phone for two months and had a Trojan horse panic attack, and wiped my phone," she said via email.
Can you tell by observation alone if your Android device has been infected with malware? On Windows PCs, for example, some types of infections leave no signs at all. Conversely, some virus, malware, and Trojan infections -- as well as adware and spyware -- may slow systems to a crawl, begin redirecting browsers to arbitrary websites or search engines, trigger pop-up ads, block access to information security websites, disable security software, alter the user interface, or email everyone in your address book, leading to a flurry of outraged emails, bounce-backs, and warnings from recipients.
As with some Windows infections, some types of Android malware might sport telltale signs of infection. For example, the reader -- who asked not to be named -- said she became concerned when a text message preview appeared on her lock screen, then mysteriously disappeared and couldn't be found. Perhaps not coincidentally, she'd also recently installed an app -- but not from the official Google Play store.
"What happened was I downloaded an app from a non-Play store site -- against my better judgment. Then not too long after I was looking at some article about security issues, and I had something really bizarro happen," she said. "A text notification with a partial preview flashed in my notifications bar and then vanished -- from a number not in my contacts. ... I went into my text messages app to try and read the full message, and it wasn't there. At that point I panicked and was convinced my phone must be hijacked -- even though nothing else seemed amiss -- and just wiped it."
But was her phone infected? And if it was, how might other Android users spot a malware attack? Recent versions of the Android operating system, as well as mobile antivirus software, can help spot and block malware-infection attempts. But neither approach is infallible. So no matter which security tools you might be using, be sure also watch for the following telltale warning signs:
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