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You may be surprised to learn that Android is the most popular operating system on the planet—bigger than Windows and the iPhone. That makes it a big target for malicious attacks. But do you actually need antivirus apps on your Android phone?

This Cybersecurity Awareness Week article is brought to you in association with Incogni.

It’s a common and fair question to ask. Antivirus software has been recommended for Windows users for many years. Thankfully, Microsoft has built-in better tools to combat malware—Windows has come with a built-in antivirus since Windows 8—but what about Android? Let’s talk about some of the ways Android is protecting you.

Google Play Protect

Google Play Protect icon
Joe Fedewa / How-To Geek

Android’s biggest built-in defense against malware is Google Play Protect. There are a few different components to Play Protect—including the Find My Device tools—but a big part of it is malware scanning.

Every Android device that includes the Google Play Store has Play Protect. You may have noticed the “No Harmful Apps Found” message at the top of the apps and games management section in the Play Store. Play Protect makes sure the apps you download from the Play Store are safe.

Play Protect doesn’t just work in the Play Store, though. It keeps an eye on everything outside of the store as well. Even apps that have been sideloaded from outside the Play Store are scanned by Play Protect. Sideloading is still inherently riskier, but it’s nice to know Play Protect is watching.

In addition to scanning apps, Play Protect can protect you when browsing with Google Chrome, too. Just like on Chrome for desktops, if you visit a site with malicious code, Chrome will warn you and take you back to safety.

Monthly Security Updates

android security update

Another big thing that protects your Android device is monthly security updates. These are smaller updates that don’t typically have shiny new features, but they’re very important.

New vulnerabilities and exploits are popping up all the time. If your Android phone were only updated once a year, these things would pile up and become dangerous. It’s critically important to routinely squash these things as they come up. That’s why monthly security updates are necessary.

Sadly, not all Android devices receive these updates in a timely manner or at all. Google releases security updates every month, and it’s up to its partners (Samsung, OnePlus, etc.) to approve the fixes, add any of their own, and release them to devices.

If you want the most secure Android phone, your best bet is a Google Pixel or Samsung Galaxy device. Both Google (unsurprisingly) and Samsung are the most reliable when it comes to keeping devices up to date with the latest patches.

So, Does My Phone Need Antivirus?

These are the tools Android uses to keep your phone safe, but are they enough on their own? For the vast majority of people and situations, they are. There’s no reason to download an antivirus app on your Android phone.

The same basic rules for using any device safely apply to Android devices. Get your apps from the official source, the Google Play Store. Don’t go to shady-looking websites. Don’t click suspicious links in emails. Along with Play Protect, this is more than enough protection.

On the other hand, you may need to download an antivirus app if you use Android devices without the Play Store, sideload APKs from untrustworthy sources, or have an old, outdated version of Android. If that sounds like you, an app such as Bitdefender or Norton 360 may be useful.

The moral of the story is you don’t need an antivirus app on your Android phone if you use it responsibly. If your device has the Play Store, you’re in good shape.

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By John P.

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