Can apps give you a virus?
In short, yes. But not every application you choose to install is a threat.
Some apps can infect your smartphone with malware. You're more at risk when downloading an app from a third-party, rather than through an official app store.
Here are some common symptoms your phone will display if you’ve accidentally downloaded an app with a virus:
- Other apps on your device taking a longer time than usual to open or install
- Random apps popping up on your home screen that you didn’t download
- Your phone’s battery depleting much faster than normal
- Other people receiving odd messages from your accounts, like social media messages, emails, or texts, that you didn’t send
- Your monthly data usage increasing
Can apps be hacked?
Apps can be hacked into if malware has infiltrated your device. The malware can attack one of the apps on your phone and effectively reverse the app’s privacy permissions to access your personal data.
If a virus has managed to do this, the hacker will then be able to see your login details, passwords, financial information, and may also be able to read private messages and emails.
If you’re particularly worried about your privacy, you could invest in a specialised phone designed to provide protection from prying eyes through encryption and multi-layered security methods.
Are apps safer than websites?
Apps, as long as they’re downloaded from official stores, are usually more secure than web browsers.
Many viruses and forms of malware are designed specifically to target vulnerabilities in web browsers. If you click on an unsafe or suspicious site (one without https or the padlock in the URL), you could be instantly at risk of being attacked by a virus. Whereas, on an app, you’re not clicking through various links and entering multiple websites - everything is stored in one software.
There are some things you can do to protect yourself on the internet, like downloading virus protection that scans browsers to check for malware. However, other people may feel more comfortable using an app, due to it typically being more secure and harder to hack into (unless you already have a virus on your phone).
Think of it this way: everyone can access a web page you’re on, but not everyone can access the app you’re using.
Types of malware online
The types of malware you could come into contact with on an internet browser are:
- Ransomware, which encrypts your personal data so you can no longer access it without paying a ransom (and even then, you might not get your information back)
- Spyware attaches to apps, which allows the hacker to access your location, usernames, and passwords
- Trojan horse viruses are more commonly found in texts or softwares, which can then intercept messages, send them at premium rates, and change your data
- Adware are viruses embedded in pop-up ads, which you may commonly see when entering a suspicious website
- Worm is a virus that spreads through text messaging, allowing hackers to load malware onto your phone and steal data
How to keep your data safe
To keep your data safe, never click on a link or download something attached to unexpected emails, texts, social media posts, messages, or websites without https and the padlock in their URL. Websites without these are not secure and may contain malware. But don’t let this put you off using internet browsers, as downloading third-party apps can be just as dangerous.
Are apps on official app stores safe?
It’s almost always safer to download an app from the official stores, namely Apple Store for iPhones and Google Play Store for Android, rather than from a website. Saying this though, even the most reputable stores can suffer from tampered apps and hacking.
Apple and Google both have strict procedures where they check the security and safety of their apps before allowing them onto their stores.
They also remove apps from their stores if they suspect they contain malware, but sometimes they can go unnoticed. A recent study by Boston University uncovered that Google takes on average 77 days from detection to remove apps that potentially contain malware.
For the most part, downloading an app from the official app stores is legitimate and safe.
What if an app isn’t available on an official store?
If there’s an app you want to download that isn’t available in your app store, you may consider downloading it directly from a website. If you decide to do this, it’s at your own discretion, and you should definitely have virus protection software installed and running to scan the website beforehand.
How to keep your phone safe
Taking measures to protect your information is vital against hackers and malware. Luckily, there are quite a few things you can do to secure your smartphone’s private data:
- Use a long, strong password for logging into your phone and accounts - if you have multiple accounts, you can use a password manager to safely store them rather than writing them down somewhere or struggling to remember them all
- Try to only download from official app stores, rather than websites
- Avoid open and unsecured networks, like in cafes and on trains. These are more vulnerable and others using the network could potentially access and infiltrate your data. When out and about, use your data instead
- Don’t open suspicious or unexpected links - you can contact the individual or organisation separately to check for the legitimacy of the link if you’re concerned. Better safe than sorry!
- Avoid websites without https or a padlock in their URL, as these aren’t secure and you could be at risk
- Don’t illegally pirate software or media - they could potentially contain viruses
- Use security software and apps for additional defence. Parents can also use parental control software to keep children safe online
Wiping your phone as a last resort
If you know you’ve got a virus on your device, and you can’t get rid, you may have to wipe your phone. Before wiping your phone, you may want to backup your data, although this may be tricky if your phone has already been compromised.
Now that you know about the safety of apps, why not find some new ones to try out? Here’s some of our favourites:
- Best Meditation Apps
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- Best Video Chat Apps
- Best Apps for Sustainability & Environmental Awareness
- Best Radio Apps
- Best Drawing Apps
- Best Apps for Pet Owners
- 10 Best Cooking & Recipe Apps
- Best 10 Apps for Job Searching
- Best Podcast Apps
- Top Reading Apps