Android Security: Is Android Safe?

Posted on Feb 20, 2024 by Kristin Hassel

People are often die-hard fans of their favorite phone operating system, and usually stay dedicated to one of the two big contenders: iOS and Android. Security is one of the comparison points where iPhones typically edge ahead, but comparing the two is like comparing apples to robots. 

People may think iPhones are more secure, but Android allows you to customize your security more. This is because Android is based on a modified Linux kernel, and Linux is well known for being one of the most customizable open-source operating systems. 

The ability to modify Android systems is both a blessing and a curse. It’s also a primary reason iOS is often seen as the more secure system. That isn’t necessarily true, but Android’s open-source build and widespread popularity make it a tempting OS for cybercriminals. 

So, is Android safe or not? Join us as we look at some known Android vulnerabilities, how you can use available features to beef up your security, and other ways to help secure your Android device.

Known Android Security Issues

Android is taking strides to increase the safety of its operating system, but several known security issues still exist. It’s important to note that, while it’s been more difficult to crack the security on iOS to date, many of these issues aren’t exclusive to Android’s OS.

Unsecured & Malware-Ridden Apps

Some apps are intentionally spammy and riddled with malware. Others may seem perfectly safe, but an unknown vulnerability in the app could allow a cybercriminal to access sensitive information on your device or even take control of it. This is rarer if you use apps from the Play Store, as they vet new apps which decreases the chances of malware making it onto the platform.

You’re more likely to encounter malware when you install apps from third-party app stores and websites. Most third-party app stores don’t have strong vetting procedures for apps, which means you could download an app that creates backdoors to your system. 

Outdated OS

Google only applies the most current security fixes to the newest Android OS versions. If you’re operating anything older than version 9 (also known as Android Pie), your device may be more vulnerable to security threats. 

Similarly, if you turn off automatic software updates, you miss recent patches that may be critical to device stability and overall functionality. Getting the latest security patches as quickly as possible is a big part of preventing possible system vulnerabilities. Cybercriminals are constantly looking out for these vulnerable spots in an operating system’s armor. When they learn about one, they try to exploit it as quickly as possible — hoping to access your device before the vulnerability is fixed.

User Error

It may be hard to hear, but you’re technically the biggest threat to your Android device’s security. How exactly? Let’s look at a few ways people put their Android devices at risk:

  • Downloading malicious apps without vetting them properly 
  • Accepting app permissions without determining whether they are necessary or not
  • Connecting to any available public Wi-Fi network without VPN protection
  • Clicking suspicious links or visiting shady websites with potential adware
  • Ignoring cybersecurity best practices, including locking a device and using strong passwords, pins, or biometrics

With a little time and effort, you can negate most of the risks caused by human error. Avoid agreeing to permissions before reading them, create a screen lock, and activate available security features. You can also build safe habits like avoiding suspicious links and turning on your VPN when connecting to public Wi-Fi. That way, you won’t turn into your OS’s biggest threat.

Rooting the Device

Rooting a device allows you to customize specific features, apps, or the OS itself and bypass your system’s built-in security measures. Granted, rooting your device to customize it to your heart’s content is tempting, but it has serious drawbacks. The biggest is that it compromises your system.

Circumventing security features by rooting your OS, may remove onboard security protocols and structures that help block malicious attacks. Google has added several excellent Android security features over the past few years, including updates to the Find My Device feature, allowing you to find, lock, or erase your phone remotely if lost. 

Rooting may also prevent you from using built-in security features. For example, Google Wallet won’t work if it detects your phone has been rooted and some other third-party banking apps may see it as a red flag and lock you out.

Not Taking Advantage of Available Security Features

Most available Android security features are activated by default, but you do have the option to turn them off. The same goes for Google account security measures, which is why you can end up unknowingly causing issues. When you don’t use the security measures available to you and choose to use only third-party options, or none at all, you miss out on features designed specifically to protect your system, device, and accounts.

One of the best ways to make your Android device safer is by using the security measures Android and Google provide. You may be wondering — how do I make sure I’m using every safety measure available on Android? Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

Get to Know Your Android Device Security Features

Google regularly releases new Android security measures, just like Apple does with iOS. This means, making sure these security features are active is one way to make your Android phone safer. 

Here we’ll take a look at some of the more helpful security features available on Android, including what they are, where to find them, and other useful information.

Note: Android is used by multiple device manufacturers. The instructions for how to activate specific Android features below may look slightly different depending on who manufactured the device. If you need specific instructions for your device, please check the manufacturer’s website.

Play Protect

At first, Play Protect may seem like a basic app scanning option, but it hides some useful security features that extend beyond a simple device scan. Play Protect can perform several important functions, including

  • Running safety scans on apps before downloading them
  • Searching for malicious apps you may have downloaded from third-party sources
  • Warning you about potentially malicious app behavior
  • Deactivating or uninstalling harmful apps from your device
  • Resetting app permissions to protect your privacy on older versions of Android

How to Activate Play Protect

  1. Open the Google Play Store Account menu, then choose Play Protect.
  2. If you see a Scan button, the feature is active. If not, click on the Settings icon.
  3. Make sure Scan apps with Play Protect is switched on.

Screenshots of Play Protect settings on Android.

Secure Lock Function

Of all the features Android offers, Secure Lock helps the most if your phone is lost or stolen. Under Secure Lock settings, you have the option to choose a timeout period anywhere from 30 seconds to 30 minutes, after which your screen will lock and require a pin, pattern, biometrics, or facial recognition to log in. It has a few other tricks, too, including

  • The ability to use the power button to lock your phone immediately
  • Automatically factory reset the device after 15 failed attempts
  • The ability to press and hold down the power key to show lockdown options

How to Activate Secure Lock

  1. Open the Settings app for your device and choose Lock Screen.
  2. Click on Secure lock settings.
  3. Turn on the features you want to use by toggling the button next to them.

Screenshots of Secure Lock settings on Android.


You can use Passkey to easily sign in to your accounts across multiple devices without using a password. To create a passkey, you need to verify your identity using a PIN, biometrics, facial recognition, or pattern. It’s an easy way to log in without memorizing dozens of usernames and passwords.

On the downside, not all sites or apps support passkeys, and you may unintentionally create backdoors into devices with older operating systems. This is why it helps to occasionally clear all the devices you’re signed into with passkeys. You can then sign in again with the devices and accounts you’re currently using, lowering the number of vulnerabilities cybercriminals can potentially find.

How to Delete Passkey Linked Devices

    Open your device’s settings and choose Google from the menu then follow the steps below.
  1. Click the All services tab and choose Devices & sharing.
  2. Select Passkey linked devices.
  3. Click the Clear button.
  4. Confirm the action by clicking Yes.

  5. Screenshots of Devices and sharing settings on Android with Passkey.

Other Ways to Secure Android Devices

Thanks to Android’s open-source system, you can adopt several security tricks and tools to help make your phone safer. Let’s take a look at how each option adds an additional layer of security or removes unnecessary threat risks.

Remove Unused Apps

Uninstall apps you haven’t used in weeks,  or if you rarely use an app (e.g. Zoom for monthly meetings) slate these apps for deep sleep mode.  If an app isn’t updated regularly, it could leave vulnerabilities for cybercriminals to exploit. Removing them eliminates unnecessary risk and frees up resources like storage space.

Delete Old Devices from Your Account

Before you sell or discard any device (Android or not) it’s a good idea to remove that device from your account, log out on that device, and factory reset it. Doing this eliminates the risk of someone using your old device to access your accounts and other personal data.

Read App Permissions & Privacy Policies

One of the easiest ways you can protect your device and data is to read permissions and privacy policies before downloading an app. Review the required and additional permissions the app requests, and be sure to take a look at the privacy policy to ensure it isn’t collecting any unnecessary information. 

Once you determine the app is safe (or at least low risk) and install it on your phone, change any unnecessary permissions to Not Allowed. You can also set the device to only allow permissions when the app is in use.

Pins, Patterns, Facial Recognition & Biometrics

Take advantage of the unique user authentication options available on your Android devices. Create a pattern or pin to lock your device, or use unique physical identifiers like facial or fingerprint recognition to access your device. That way, not just anyone can access your device.

Use 2FA Options

If you sync your accounts across multiple devices and operating systems, using two-factor authentication (2FA) is a good way to prevent unauthorized access if someone else uses your device or tries to log into your account from a different device. 

Passwords offer account protection, but they aren’t enough to keep cybercriminals from trying to access your data. 

A password can be guessed or even stolen using tools like keyloggers. With 2FA, not only do you require a password for access, but you’ll also need to confirm via prompt, enter a code from a text message, or use biometrics on your device. This makes it less likely your accounts will be compromised even if your password is.

Don’t Use Third-Party App Stores

While you can get malicious apps from the Google Play Store, the risk of downloading one increases when you use third-party app stores or other sources. Whenever possible, only download apps from trusted sources and the designated app store to reduce your security risks. Google Play Store at least has a vetting process for apps, which is more than most third-party app stores offer.


A simple way to make your Android device more secure is to get an Android VPN. When you connect to a VPN, your traffic is encrypted and tunneled through a secure VPN server, providing you with a new IP address in any location you choose. That way, others can’t pinpoint your true location or see what you’re doing online. It’s a quick and easy way to protect your device over any network connection — public or private.

A VPN provides strong encryption that masks your traffic by making your data unreadable to unauthorized parties, preventing cybercriminals from stealing it. Some VPNs even give you additional features at no cost. PIA VPN provides an all-in-one ad, malware, and tracker blocker for Android, a tool that helps prevent you from picking up malicious software while browsing.

How to Secure Your Connections on Android with PIA VPN

  1. Create your PIA account and pick a plan.
  2. Download and install the PIA VPN Android app.
  3. Connect to a server in your desired location.
  4. Browse the web and access your accounts knowing your connection is secure.

A Final Note on Android Security

Google provides plenty of security tools that help make Android safe, and you can take additional personal steps like installing an Android VPN to keep your OS more secure. Even simple steps like reading through privacy policies and app permissions before downloading apps can greatly increase the safety of your Android device.

PIA has a dedicated app for Android and it includes MACE — our all-in-one ad, malware, and tracker blocker. Your device data won’t be tracked regardless of whether you’re logging on at home or over a public network, thanks to strong encryption and secure tunneling protocols. Just connect to one of our servers before you start browsing and enjoy peace of mind knowing your connection is more private.


Is iOS safer than Android?

While iOS is considered to have more security controls out of the box, that doesn’t necessarily make it safer. Android allows for customization, which means if you install third-party security like a malware blocker or trustworthy VPN, in addition to using built-in security features you can easily increase your Android safety.

Are Android systems safe to use?

Yes, with proper precautions, timely updates, and the use of a secure Android VPN. These tools can help you avoid the most common cyber threats to Android operating systems and avoid cybercriminals and other snoops, like your ISP. Android also allows you to manage your phone’s security by installing extra tools from outside sources. 

Can an Android phone be hacked?

Absolutely. Any mobile device can be compromised with the right tools, time, and effort (even the notoriously secure iPhone). Malicious apps can sneak past vetting procedures in app stores, users may not install updates and unknowingly leave backdoors into their system, and even something as simple as not locking your device can lead to your mobile phone being compromised.