What the Virus Shield fiasco says about Android security

Shane Schick

Virus Shield may go down as one of the strangest failures to launch--or at least launch properly--in mobile app history, but that doesn't mean the scores of consumers who downloaded it were making a big mistake. 

A firm named Deviant Solutions uploaded the app a few weeks ago on Google Play and almost instantly saw the kind of success that most developers only dream about. Even at a price of $3.99 in an era where paid apps face an uphill battle, Virus Shield did really well, with more than 30,000 downloads over little more than a week. There was just one problem: It was about as effective as crossing your fingers and making a wish every time you use an Android device. 

"Ostensibly, it searched the user's phone for viruses, while also promising not to affect battery life," the Guardian reported. "But in fact the app did precisely one thing: it changed its icon when pressed, to make it look like it was active. When Android Police examined the app, they found it didn't even contain any code to do anything else."

Deviant Solutions' Jesse Carter explained that the icon was intended to be a "placeholder" for the real app, but it may be too late. Virus Shield has since been removed from Google Play. And yet I'd still argue it's worth keeping in mind why something like Virus Shield went so, well, viral. 

There's no question that the rise of Android-related malware is becoming a huge concern for smartphone users. In February, Webroot, a security firm based in Broomfield, Co., released a report that showed an 84 percent increase in total threats to Android devices in 2013, along with 42 percent of apps classified as malicious, unwanted or suspicious. No wonder consumers are ready to download the first Android protection tool that looks good. 

Virus Shield's changing icon, on the other hand, reflects the degree to which app users want to see security products in action. We've all groaned as desktop antivirus tools took forever to scan things on our PCs. No one wants to experience that on a phone. If it could be as simple and straightforward as a checkmark on the app's icon, there are obviously plenty of people willing to place their trust in that. This is the user experience all developers in this space should be striving to achieve. 

If nothing else, Android developers should look at what happened with Virus Shield and ask themselves how it should inform the way they market their apps and build relationships with customers. There are plenty of other security tools out there already. What if more Android apps, following the installation procedure or as part of it, offered a recommendation or served up an in-app advertisement recommending a malware tool they could use to protect themselves?

That kind of proactive guidance could go a long way with consumers. There are obviously thousands of them who want a virus shield of some kind--even if it doesn't turn out to be Virus Shield.--Shane