Google Android is the world’s most popular mobile operating system, so if you own a smartphone or tablet that isn’t made by Apple, it almost certainly uses a version of Android.

Android is considered an ‘open’ operating system, which essentially means that smartphone manufacturers are free to change it to work in any way they want, and anyone can release apps for it. Unfortunately, this also means Android is more prone to malware than other mobile operating systems.

So just as you wouldn’t dream of leaving a Windows PC without malware protection, nor should your Android smartphone be left exposed.

Fortunately, protecting your Android smartphone or tablet is straightforward — and free. Read on to learn how.


Step 1: Update your version of Android

Android software update

It’s important to keep your Android software up to date.  As well as new features, each update includes bug fixes to help protect your phone.

Tap the Settings icon, then scroll down to About phone (or About tablet) option followed System updates. Now tap the Check Update button.

If an update is found, follow the prompts to download and install it.


Step 2: Prevent app installs from unknown sources

Prevent installs from unknown sources

Next, check that your Android device is set up to only allow app installations from the Google Play store.

To do this, tap Settings -  Security - Device Administration and look for the Unknown sources box. This should be clear. If it isn’t, simply tap to remove the tick.


Step 3: Restrict downloads with a password

Restrict downloads with a password

If you let other people use your Android smartphone then it is essential to enable a password for installation of new apps. This is especially important for parents!

Launch the Google Play store app then tap the menu button at the top right – it looks like three stacked dots. Now tap Settings and swipe to the User Control sections. The Password box should be ticked. If it isn’t, tap it to do so.


Step 4: Read and understand permissions

Read and understand permissions

When you tap the Install button in the Google Play store, your Android device will display an App permissions dialogue box.

Don’t tap the Accept button – pause for breath. Scroll down and tap See all to view everything that the app wants to access on your handset.

Some apps have a legitimate need to access certain parts of your smartphone. A web browser, for example, will need access to the internet, while a photo app will need access to the device’s storage.

If you’re at all suspicious, make a note of the requested, tap the Back button then perform a Google search to find out whether or not the app can be trusted.

If in doubt or you don’t want to share the information, don’t install the app.


Step 5: Install free antivirus software

Install free antivirus software

You should install antivirus software onto your Android smartphone. Fortunately, this is both easy and free.

There are many different antivirus apps to choose from, such as Norton Security Antivirus, AVG’s Antivirus Security or Lookout Security & Antivirus, which we'll look at below.

Each protects against viruses and malware, blocking dangerous URLs and even helping you find your phone.


Step 6: Launch Lookout and run a virus scan

Launch Lookout and run a virus scan

Locate Lookout in the Google Play Store. Tap Install, read the permissions (as per Step 4) then tap Accept.

Find and tap the Lookout app icon on your smartphone’s home screen. Read the introduction screens, tapping Next at each turn.

Type in an email address and choose a password, then tap Start Protecting. Decline the offer to upgrade by tapping No Thanks then, on the next screen, tap to remove the tick from the Start Free Trial box (otherwise you’ll opt in to the Premium version of Lookout, which expires after 14 days unless you pay). Tap Done.

Decide whether you want to opt in to the Mobile Threat Network (this watches what you type on web pages in an effort to prevent phishing attacks, but will share the information with Lookout’s developer) then tap Next.

Lookout will now scan your Android device for viruses – and it will do it weekly until you uninstall the app. Your device is now protected.


Step 7: Use common sense

Security threat detected on smartphone

Protection is all well and good, but it pays to be cautious.

First and foremost don’t click on dodgy links and delete anything that looks suspicious. Email hacking is very common - you may receive an email from a trusted source containing a YouTube link with an unusual heading.

Additionally, if you get a spam text messages informing you you’ve won a prize, delete it. If you haven’t entered a competition, it’s highly unlikely you’ve won a prize.