04/12/2013 10:34 am ET Updated Jun 11, 2013

How to Spot Android Malware and Keep Your Data Private

A new, growing risk that's just as devious as malware is now disguised as adware. While malware is often designed to hide on your device, minimizing impact while nabbing personal files and passwords, adware can operate in plain sight while it collects almost everything else on your smartphone.

Much like a burglar, stealthy capabilities combined with security loopholes heighten the danger of malware. Bringing in adware, though, is like recklessly inviting a total stranger for dinner. The conversation may be pleasant, but he may be walking around the house and learning everything there is to know about you.

There is money to be made in using adware to gather personal data from your phone. This attracts legitimate advertisers, and more dubious characters. Keeping a close eye on your device to make sure that it behaves properly is highly recommended.

With both personal and work data on your device, imagine what would happen if someone were to gain complete access to it. For instance, if you notice a spike in data consumption without doing anything out of the ordinary, it might reveal that something is smuggling data out of or onto your device. The best way to stay ahead of the problem is to set up a data meter to plug the leak before it causes too much damage.

With smartphones used in online shopping by charging purchases to your carrier phone bill, some malware actually reaches into your pockets and starts sending text messages to premium-rated numbers. You won't know what happened until you get slapped with a phone bill that might make your head spin.

A sudden loss in battery performance could also hint that something is running in the background. If it's nothing you can pinpoint and switch off, some nasty piece of malware may be at work. Of course, aggressive adware could also be a culprit here, as location tracking or the constant monitoring of your browser activities could drain more juice than usual.

Watch out for apps that display too many ads or send push notifications - they're not only annoying but they also take a toll on your battery. In some cases, you might even experience full performance clogging as too many apps try to feed you push notifications. Your device is biting off more than it can chew, leading to reboots caused by sluggish performance.

With Android malware emulating many features we've seen on PC malware years back, somebody could even eavesdrop on your conversations. If you start noticing call drops although you have plenty of cellphone coverage, or if you hear a strange echo during calls, contact your local carrier and make sure it's not their fault. Malware might be tapping into your conversations and saving them as audio files on your smartphone, waiting for the chance to upload them to an attacker-controlled server.

This might sound like science fiction, and you might think it could never happen to you. However, take a step back and think about how many smartphones are there on a global level and how many in your own family. Your personal information is valuable to criminals, and they will go to some serious effort to steal it from you.

There's nothing wrong with a little paranoia when it comes to keeping data on your smartphone safe. Thankfully, an award-winning mobile security software will keep you safe from unnecessary headaches and will let you know when you're about to install apps with aggressive advertising or even malware.

If your device is giving you some of the signs outlined above, perhaps it's a good time to give it a quick checkup.