The subject of security for the Android platform is far from straightforward. There’s some debate about whether you really need antivirus apps on your smartphone. Much depends on whether you sideload apps, but there’s no denying that malware has grown into a much greater concern since we first wrote this article back in 2012. Luckily, security apps have improved dramatically to keep pace with the new threats, so you have plenty of great protection to choose from.
The majority of Android security apps are actually packages that include a host of other tools from contact filtering to remote lock or wipe. We decided to take a look at the top five Android security apps and find out what they do. We are taking a look at these from a consumer point of view, so be warned that some of the “free” apps are only free for personal, non-commercial use.
Avast Antivirus & Security
As a genuinely free app for the Android platform, Avast Antivirus & Security offers an impressive range of tools. It has antivirus protection, it scans your apps to provide details on what they are doing, and it has a web shield that scans URLs for malware.
There are various additional tools in the package including a call blocker for blacklisting problem numbers, an app locker to PIN protect private apps, and Wi-Fi scanning options for improved security and speed. Sadly, the app locking feature is limited to two apps unless you subscribe to the “Pro” version, which also removes ads and gives you direct support access from the app.
If you have a rooted device, then there’s also a firewall that allows you to control network traffic. You can block access to Wi-Fi or the network for specific apps, which is handy for security and may potentially save battery life as well.
According to the latest AV-Test report of 26 popular Android security apps from November 2016, Avast is a solid option with a detection rate of the latest Android malware in real time of 99.9 percent, rising to 100 percent for malware discovered in the last four weeks. That puts it near the very top of the charts in terms of malware detection, which, combined with the extra functionality, makes it worth considering. It has a light footprint with no discernible drain on battery life and no impact on general performance. It also returned no false positives.
The free version of this Android security app provides a decent range of features, keeps you safe from malware, and offers extra protection for rooted devices, making it a strong contender. If you’re looking for a security solution for your Android smartphone, and your primary concern is malware and safe browsing, then this could be the right app for you.
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Sophos Free Antivirus and Security
There are a lot of really good Android security apps out there, but you’ll be hard-pressed to find one that offers this many features, scores a 100 percent detection rate for malware in real-time, and costs absolutely nothing.
Sophos Free Antivirus and Security has been a top performer for months, consistently boasting a 100 percent detection rate for Android malware according to AV-Test. It returned no false positives. It offers robust scanning covering installation, existing apps, and storage media.
You also get an impressive package of extras including loss and theft protection, with support for wipe, lock, alarm, locate, and more via SMS. There’s also web filtering, password protection for apps, spam blocking, privacy and security advice, and a few other tools.
It’s not the prettiest app on the list, but it performs admirably, with minimal impact on your phone in terms of processing, networking, and battery life. Best of all, this is a genuinely free app with a solid list of fully accessible features and without any advertising.
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Some of you are probably just looking for malware protection that’s as barebones as possible. If you don’t want anti-theft tools, or identity protection, or any of the other possibly superfluous features that come in many security apps, then AVL will suit you.
This app scored a 99.8 percent detection rate for real-time Android malware in the latest tests, rising to 100 percent for malware from the last four weeks, with no false positives. AV-Test also found performance was good with no undue impact on speed or battery life. AVL can scan a variety of file formats beyond APKs and it’s designed to be fast and efficient. If you like it, but you want more, there is an AVL Pro app available, too.
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Avira Antivirus Security
With a consistently high detection rate and no false positives, you can trust the free version of Avira to keep your Android smartphone or tablet safe. It has a light footprint in terms of performance and a sleek, minimalist design that fits in well with the Android platform.
Avira allows you to scan apps for potential trouble and it scans new apps or updates automatically. It slipped a little in the latest malware detection results from AV-Test, scoring 98.9 percent for real-time malware and 99.8 percent for the last four weeks, but it does also offer a lot of extras. There’s the usual batch of anti-theft tools, to help you find your device remotely, lock it, wipe it, or trigger an alarm. There’s also an identity safeguard tool that can tell you whether your email account or the email addresses of your friends have been leaked or compromised. A decent range of blacklisting options rounds off this app, so you can block problem callers or nuisance spam.
There is a premium version that adds anti-phishing, more regular updates, and better support, but the free version covers enough bases for most people.
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Trend Micro Mobile Security & Antivirus
Averaging a 99.9 percent malware detection rate over the last two years, Trend Micro is a consistently solid choice. In the latest report, it managed 99.8 percent for real-time detection and 100 percent for malware discovered in the last four weeks. It also returned no false positives and it won’t impact noticeably on battery life or performance.
You get a handful of other tools with the free version of Trend Micro’s app. There’s protection against phishing sites, a privacy scanner for Facebook, and some tools to help you save battery life and memory. There’s also a neat “Just-a-Phone” feature that kills all non-essential background processes.
There’s a 7-day free trial of the premium features, which include malware blocking and cleaning, anti-theft tools, app locking, call filtering, and more. At $36 per year, we’re not convinced it’s worth it, but the free version will cover you for malware detection and it already has some handy extras.
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In the most recent November 2016 tests, only 4 out of 26 apps tested managed a 100 percent detection rate in real-time, though 8 out of 26 managed 100 percent over the last four weeks. We had to drop ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus and 360 Mobile Security from this year’s list, mainly due to a decline in malware detection rates, but they’re both still decent alternatives if you don’t like any of our picks.
From the big name security software brands, Kaspersky and Norton will attract many people because they are familiar names, but compared to some of the free options there’s really nothing there to justify the price tags. Same goes for the excellent Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus. Bitdefender and Norton did score 100 percent in November’s test, but they are only free trials and will bug you about paying out an annual subscription.
You can read about whether you actually need antivirus protection and run through some common sense ways to safeguard your Android device in the next two parts of this security series. However, if you do want to go ahead and get an Android security app, Sophos Free Antivirus and Security is your best bet right now. It offers the functionality you’d expect from a premium app for free. If you’re not sure about Sophos, then we’d recommend Avast Antivirus & Security.