Useless might be a strong word, but when it comes to being protected from security threats it would seem that the issue is necessarily black and white: you’re protected or you aren’t. So imagine the surprise (heard, read) around the world when Google’s chief security engineer for Android, Adrian Ludwig, announced that anti-virus apps may not be terribly valuable on that platform.
Not to be misunderstood, Ludwig’s claim isn’t that viruses and malware don’t exist. His assertion is that if users rely on Google and their own Play Store, they will be protected by his team and their checks and balances performed against every app. True? Not entirely, from what we’ve seen malware still seems to seep through their sensors and into those downloads (albeit only occasionally). Staying protected also requires you to have the latest version of Android installed on your device –something that isn’t necessarily within your control when the fragmented Android ecosystem means every manufacturer delivers updates at a different rate.
So what is within your control? Protect your phone from yourself: when an app requests permissions as you install it, don’t blindly allow them access. Don’t install software from shady looking app stores. Keep an eye on the usual behaviour for your device: if your battery starts dying hours earlier than it did a few days ago, it may signal a problem.
Other than potentially taking a few dollars out of your pocket (and running the risk of it behaving only as a placebo), there is no actual harm that comes from installing an anti-virus or malware protection app; just try to remember that even if you build a better mousetrap, hackers and malicious developers will just engineer a better mouse.