Home singapore Explainer: Why are Android devices prone to malware and how can users guard against it?

Explainer: Why are Android devices prone to malware and how can users guard against it?

Explainer: Why are Android devices prone to malware and how can users guard against it?
The police said that they have received a growing number of reports of malware being used to compromise Android mobile devicesCybersecurity experts said that the “openness” of Android’s design means less restrictions for users and their devicesThis could, however, expose them to more risksAndroid and Google have security measures in place but users must play their part to guard themselves as well, experts said

By Deborah Lau Published September 11, 2023 Updated September 12, 2023 Bookmark Bookmark Share WhatsApp Telegram Facebook Twitter Email LinkedIn

SINGAPORE — Among the recent spate of online scams involving huge losses, many seem to stem from the installation of malware through third-party applications meant for Android mobile devices.

In a media release issued over the weekend, the police said that they have received an increasing number of reports since January this year of “malware being used to compromise Android mobile devices”.

The recent types of such scams include:

The purported sale of mooncakes through social media platforms in August, where users were led to malicious links when making payment for their “purchases”Messages from purported female subjects on TikTok and dating apps, requesting that users click on a malicious link to continue the engagementThe circulation of a fake GST Voucher app, asking users to integrate the app with their bank accounts

In these scams, victims were often led to click on malicious online links.

Scammers may present such links to users through false advertisements on social media platforms, payment processes for online purchases, or in phone text messages, for example.

Through the links, victims are led either to phishing sites to give away personal data or to download harmful Android Package Kit (APK) files, used to distribute and install apps on Android mobile phones.

After downloading and installing the APK file, which includes granting accessibility and permissions to the third-party app, scammers would be able to access the victim’s device remotely.

This could allow them to steal victims’ passwords, while malware with keylogging capabilities means that scammers could retrieve the victims’ banking credentials.

Responding to TODAY’s query, the Cyber Security Agency of Singapore said that it was aware of an “uptick of online scams targeting Android users”.

“Android’s open nature allows for greater flexibility and customisation for developers and users, and they are the top mobile operating system globally, taking up about 70 per cent of the market share.

“With more users, the probability that Android phones will be targeted will be higher.” 

That said, the agency added that cyber criminals are “opportunistic and will spread their net wide”. It said that it had also seen Apple’s iOS devices being targeted, with “two recent zero-day vulnerabilities, which were used to install spyware on a range of Apple products such as Macs, iPhones and iPads”.

TODAY spoke with Google and cybersecurity experts to understand why Android devices might be more susceptible to such scams, and what can be done to better protect Android users.


An APK file is an application created for Android’s operating system. It is a file format used to distribute and install apps on Android mobile phones.

Using an APK file to download a third-party app to an Android device is commonly known as “sideloading”.

In April this year, the police and CSA issued a joint advisory against downloading apps from third-party or dubious sites.

Doing so may lead to the installation of malware in the device, which in turn may result in confidential and sensitive data such as banking credentials being stolen.


Mr Aman Dayal, head of regional trust and safety operations for Google Play Asia Pacific, said that Android was built as an “open-source mobile operating system”.

An open-source software refers to software with a source code that anyone can publicly access, inspect, modify and enhance.

“For closed platforms, ‘security’ sometimes means taking choices away from users and restricting what they can do with their devices.

“Our approach is different. We have developed layers of security to help protect users from potentially harmful apps, plus other risks like network exploitation and phishing, while also allowing users to take advantage of the benefits of openness,” he added.

Mr Siau of CSCIS said that users may also turn to security apps and software that perform basic, preventive checks to guard their devices.

A potentially harmful app may be almost impossible to spot because its malware is hidden, but users may take precautions to spot a fake app by checking against the app provider’s official website, and looking out for platform reviews or pictures, wordings and online links that may be out of the norm.

“If you look at flexibility and security, it is a tension on both sides of the spectrum,” Mr Yeo said.

“If you allow for more flexibility, it will be less secure; and vice versa.

“Both Android and iOS platforms are striving to provide a safe environment for users to enjoy their mobile devices, but we have to play our part and be careful.”

TODAY has reached out to the police for more details on the scams related to Android devices and the losses so far.