How to remove malware and viruses from your Android phone

Just like your computer, your Android phone can fall victim to malware. It slows your system down and creates glitches that make it difficult to even use your phone. You have to stop it fast to protect your phone and yourself. Whether you’ve downloaded an infected app or visited a corrupted website, there are steps you can take to remove the malware and protect your phone in the future.

The first step is to find the malware on your phone. We’ll walk you through how to do that, then we’ll give you some options for protection and antivirus apps you can use to restore your phone’s health and keep it safe in future.

Step 1: Shut down until you find out the specifics

Once you’re sure your phone is under attack by malware, hold the power button down and turn the phone fully off. It may not stop the malware from causing damage, but it can stop the problem from getting worse, and may halt ongoing malware attempts to access nearby networks.

Shutting down also gives you time to think and research. Do you know the specific infected app that brought malware onto your device? Do you know what other types of software it may have downloaded without your consent? If not, then move to another computer and look up your symptoms (as well as any new apps you tried out) to narrow down the issue. If you can’t find the app at the root of the problem, you can’t remove it.

If your research turns up nothing, you may want to turn your phone back on and skip down to step five. Anti-malware apps can help identify what is causing your problems and may even be able to remove the infected software for you. However, this will also require restoring phone access to the internet again, which involves some risk.

Step 2: Switch to safe/emergency mode while you work

When you turn your device back on and plunge in to isolate the problematic app, switch over to safe mode first. This will help limit the damage the infected app can do.

For most Android devices, you can switch to safe mode by holding down the power button for a couple seconds when your device is on, then tapping and holding on the Power off option. This should bring up a few power options, including the option to Reboot to safe mode. Choose this mode and wait for your phone to reboot before you continue. If you can’t find a safe mode, activate airplane mode instead, to cut your device off from any networks. You can usually find that option at the top of your notifications shade.

Note: If you can’t find out what’s causing your malware problem, even after downloading a security app, this is not the time to tinker. Ask a professional for help and if you should wipe your phone. This is a good strategy if increasingly common ransomware takes over your phone and blocks your actions.

Step 3: Head to Settings and find the app

Visit Settings on your Android device. Settings typically has a gear-shaped icon, but that depends on your themes and arrangement: Search for it if you have trouble locating the right spot.

In Settings, scroll until you see the section called Apps, and enter. Look for a list of all your current apps — you may need to choose App Manager to locate the full list. Once there, scroll until you find the infected app at the center of your problems.

Select the app, and this should bring up options to UninstallForce Close, or Force Stop (often you cannot uninstall core apps, only disable them, but these apps are unlikely to be the problem).

Step 4: Delete the infected app and anything else suspicious

Simply choose Uninstall, and your Android device should remove the app in question. It’s also a good idea to review your app list and uninstall other suspicious downloads — if you haven’t looked at this list before, you may be surprised at some of the odd things your device has on it.

Note: In some cases, you can’t uninstall the problem app. In fact, the option to delete may not even be there. Instead, you’ll see Disable on the menu, and that will be all. An app with super smarts (and dangerous malware or ransomware) can hack your administrator settings. The app may have given itself administrative settings, protecting itself from deletion. 

Fortunately, this is often a relatively easy issue that you can fix on your own. All you have to do is navigate back to the original Settings menu and scroll down to Lock Screen and Security (or a similar corresponding section). When you get to the Security menu, look for a tab that says “Phone (Device) Administrators.” Keep in mind that you may need to visit “Other security settings” first, depending on your security menu’s hierarchy. In Phone Administrators, you should be able to track down the setting that enables the malware to camp out. Then, all you have to do is simply adjust those settings and you can finally delete the app.

Step 5: Download some malware protection

Every Android device deserves sufficient security and protection against malware. But it’s especially prudent to download antivirus solutions if you’ve had the misfortune of dealing with questionable apps in the past. When you finish manually deleting the troublesome app, it’s time to bulk up your phone’s security. 

There are plenty of apps to help you out. You want to look for security apps that perform multiple functions instead of several apps that do one or two things. Look for security apps that scan for viruses, get rid of junk files, and keep your information safe. Some apps can even remove potentially infected software. Some of the top choices in this field include software like Safe Security, Avast Antivirus, or AVG Antivirus from the Google Play Store. Or, you can take a look at our other security and antivirus recommendations for Android. Once you download sufficient malware protection, you might even notice that your device performs better (and faster).

And while it sounds obvious, it’s also an excellent idea to keep your software current. You want to make sure that you regularly check for and download the most current software updates on your Android for the best results. Forgetting to update is one of the biggest mistakes people make, and a critical factor that can leave Android phones open to attack.

Editors' Recommendations