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How To Detect a Virus on Your Android Device

It’s remarkably easy to catch a virus on an Android smartphone. Here is how to spot them on time and react accordingly.

Bojan Jovanovic Image
Updated:

May 18,2022

Over 69% of all smartphone users, or more than a billion people, rely on Google’s Android operating system. Despite all of its security features, even the safest places have cracks from which troubling viruses and malware can start pouring in.

Android phones are often targeted by cyberattacks, but It's easy to notice the symptoms: check for monthly data usage and battery consumption, note whether your phone is overheating, and look for newly installed apps that you’ve never installed yourself.

This article will show you how to detect a virus on your Android device, reinforce its security and protection features, and restore the phone to normal functions after it has been compromised by a virus.

Signs of a Virus Infestation

Android has a significantly more open architecture than Apple, with vast amounts of data that goes through the phone daily. It's also home to well over three million apps on Google Play. This accessibility and incredible freedom of choice come at a security cost.

Android as an operating system is more vulnerable and prone to hacking attacks than its direct competitor, iOS. It also allows its users to download and install unverified third-party software with corrupted data from all sorts of shady internet sites. Whatever the virus's origin is, here are several symptoms that can help you detect a virus on your Android phone:

  • A significant increase in current, daily, weekly, or monthly data usage
  • Significantly slower smartphone performance,
  • Phone overheating issues,
  • Reduced battery life,
  • Apps opening slowly and crashing regularly, or not opening at all,
  • Frequent pop-ups,
  • Increased phone bills,
  • Presence of unknown and decoy apps on the phone,
  • Extremely personalized ads on your device.

Increase in Monthly Data Usage

One of the first things you should do if you think your phone might have a virus is to check the phone's data usage. You can quickly check the data usage on your phone or notice it on your monthly report. 

Either way, to detect a virus on your Android phone,  you’ll need to compare the data usage to the data used in previous months. Search for significant unplanned increases in data bandwidth, especially if your browsing habits during this time remained unchanged. 

These data usage spikes most likely come from infected smartphones with excessive background data usage generating income for the hacker.

Checking for the monthly data usage on your Android phone is quite simple. Swipe from the top of the screen downwards once or twice until you see a gear icon. Tap on it to enter Settings, and in this menu, search for Connections or Data Usage options. Here, you'll find the Mobile Data feature with a detailed overview of the data expenditures. Here’s where you’ll be able to find evidence of an Android virus and detect it.

Some Android models have different placements for this function. If you cannot locate Mobile Data from the swipe menu, press the Settings icon from the main menu. Locate and press the Network & Internet menu, and press Mobile Network. You'll see the data you've used during the current month at the top of your ​Android phone’s display. 

To detect a virus, scroll below this option. You can find the App Data Usage settings with a list of apps ranked by data usage, starting from the most demanding ones. Once you find the suspicious app, press on it and tap on Background Data to disable its ability to use data when working in the background.

Phone Overheating

Viruses are known for conducting plenty of operations in the background and being CPU-intensive. Always check if your smartphone is overheating, as it's a sure-fire way to detect a hidden virus on Android.

Battery Impact

Another evident syndrome of an infected phone is the battery drain. Just as with data usage spikes, malicious apps affect battery life significantly. Devices with suspicious third-party programs or unverified apps will most certainly shorten the daily lifespan of the battery significantly.

Unexpected Pop-Ups

Malicious data, including ad-related malware, can add spam messages, site shortcuts, and bookmarks to the home screen or in the mobile browser. Most pop-ups come from apps installed a long time ago that have since become abandonware and ripe with malware. You’ll probably need a dedicated Android app to detect a virus pop-up, as many free app creators with no ill intentions use similar ads to earn money.

Apps that were not downloaded from and verified by Google Play may harbor malware and viruses with annoying pop-ups. If you start getting a sudden flood of notifications, it’s often a  sign that your phone has been infected with a virus. Not only are these pop-up messages a significant inconvenience, but they'll also usually slow down the operating system and install additional malware.

Unexpected Phone Charges

Another telltale sign that a virus has infected your device is the arrival of unusual SMS charges on your phone bill. The most likely culprit is malware that sends messages to premium-rate services and gets you charged for it. Even if you use the best app to detect a virus on an Android phone, it may still miss this form of malware attack, so you have to monitor mobile bills regularly.

Random App Crashes

Most installed apps deteriorate in performance over time, causing them to close or crash unexpectedly. However, when it starts happening to newly installed apps, your phone needs to be checked for viruses and malware. Some security-savvy users even lock new apps with passwords and use password managers to generate complex codes for added security.

Unknown and Decoy Apps

It is crucial to keep an eye on the apps you've installed. Hackers often imitate popular apps that get swapped with malware after a software update. One of them was the malware app that hijacks Facebook login info, which could be prevented by using any good free app to detect a virus on your Android device. 

This particular malware app was available on Google Play and got installed over 100,000 times, so just relying on Google’s internal scans is not a foolproof way of avoiding malicious apps.

Adware and trojan malware tend to download more malicious apps when you install them on the phone. As soon as you notice an app you don't remember downloading, it is best to delete it immediately.

To remove suspicious apps:

  1. Go to Settings, then press the Application Manager or Apps menu tab. You'll see the list of installed apps on the App Info screen.
  2. Upon noticing a questionable app, tap the Clear Cache button to delete the cache. It won’t help Android detect virus activity, but it’s the first step to getting rid of a suspicious app and its ability to wreak havoc on your device.
  3. Press Clear Data, followed by Uninstall to remove all traces of this app.

You might need administrator access to remove specific corrupted and malicious apps. These can be trickier to get rid of, but one way of doing this is via Safe Mode. Press and hold the power button until the Power Option or Power-Off screen show up. Tap on the button and hold it, after which the phone will reboot into Safe Mode.

In Safe Mode, return to Application Manager or Apps to delete apps that you couldn't remove due to the presence of the Android virus. To detect an app fully, its administrator status permissions must be disabled. 

Tap on Settings, then Security, and enter the Device administrators menu. Here, you can uncheck boxes for the apps you want to remove, then press OK to go back to Apps or Application Manager and remove the problematic app from there.

Getting Rid of the Virus

Once you detect a virus, there are several actions that you can take and remove it from the operating system. Thankfully, Android makes the entire process of removing a virus as straightforward as it can be. Once you check for viruses on Android, you only need to choose a removal method that best suits your needs.

Factory Reset

One of the quickest ways to remove a virus from your Android smartphone is to do a factory reset. This action will remove virus activity, but it will also delete all your personal data on the device, so make sure you’re ready for that before proceeding.

To reset everything to the factory setup on Samsung and most other Android smartphones, press the Apps icon, then tap Settings. Select Backup and Reset, and finally click on Factory Data Reset. To complete this action, tap the Erase Everything button.

Antivirus and Antimalware Apps

Before installing another app, it's best to get some antivirus software from a well-known company. To find an Android virus detector, open the Google Play app and search for antivirus protection among popular brands that users recommend the most.

Anti-malware, anti-ransomware, and antivirus apps significantly decrease the chances of getting your device infected with a malicious app. These applications regularly check all data on the phone for viruses and malware, then put the infected apps in an isolated bubble before deleting them so they cannot harm your other programs and files.

Note that none of these security programs will provide complete protection from malware attacks unless you make sure to use your smartphone responsibly. Internet security companies and hackers are always trying to outsmart each other. As scammers develop more and more sophisticated malware, it becomes increasingly difficult to find a virus on your phone before it wreaks havoc on your system. However, these instances are exceedingly rare.

The Best Virus Scanner

The human mind can sometimes be the best detector of viruses and malware. Monitor how your phone acts under normal circumstances to notice if things go awry due to malicious apps. Always have an antivirus app installed to prevent future virus breaches and costly data recoveries. Encrypt incoming and outgoing data to keep malware at bay when browsing the internet.

Further Reading

FAQ
Does Android have a virus scan?

Android phones have plenty of free antivirus apps you can download from Google Play in just a few easy steps.

How do I test my phone for viruses?

How to detect a virus on your Android? Check the basics: monthly data usage, battery consumption, signs of the phone overheating while supposedly under low load, the presence of unwanted installed apps, and sudden unusual SMS charges.

Are phone virus warnings real?

Sadly, most corrupted apps have false virus warnings. That said, if your trusted antivirus app notifies you about the presence of a virus, you should probably investigate.

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