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. 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 three Android security apps and find out what they do.
Updated on 11-20-2013 by Simon Hill: Added updated results, tweaked text, added 360 Mobile Security from Qihu, updated other apps section and recommendations.
As a genuinely free app for the Android platform, Avast! Mobile Security is offering 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 and the best of the bunch is the anti-theft component. The app is actually based on an old app called Theft Aware which Avast acquired. The anti-theft feature is hidden and allows you to remote control your smartphone using SMS. So if you lose your phone, you can remotely lock it, locate it, or wipe it. You can make it play a siren sound, lock down the SIM card, and prevent USB debugging as well. It’s a comprehensive solution for theft protection.
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 potentially saving on battery juice as well.
According to the latest AV-Test report of 28 popular Android security apps, Avast is a solid option with an overall detection rate of 99.6 percent. Although it is not top of the charts in terms of malware detection, the extra functionality (including the anti-theft tools and a firewall for rooted devices) still make 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 fact this app is completely free, has a wide range of features, and offers protection for rooted devices, makes 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.
Avast Marketing Director, Milos Korenko, has assured us that “There might be a paid version in the future but that won’t have an impact on the free version. It will continue to be available and loaded with features.”
As one of the earliest entries into the Android security field Lookout has an impressive user base. There is a completely free version which offers antivirus and scheduled scanning. There is also a locate function for lost or stolen devices, the ability to activate an alarm, and the option to track your phone online via the Lookout website.
Another handy feature that Lookout provides is the ability to backup contacts online and restore them to your existing device or a new one.
If you are prepared to splash out $3 per month or $30 for a year you can secure the premium version for use on two Android smartphones. Extra features include safe browsing, remote lock and wipe, privacy reports on apps, and advanced backup which includes photos and call history.
The AV-Test report also rates Lookout Security & Antivirus in the top tier for malware detection rates. It has dropped down the chart noticeably in the most recent report, but with a detection rate of 99.4 percent, that’s perhaps down to increased competition rather than any real failing on the part of this app. For app scanning protection against viruses, malware, adware, and spyware this is a good choice, and it’s very easy to use.
The free version of Lookout should provide enough security for most users. If you are really looking for antivirus protection rather than theft-related features or backup options then Lookout is a great choice.
360 Mobile Security (Free)
We have a new entry from developer Qihu which claims top spot in AV-Test’s September 2013 report with a virtually flawless detection rate of 99.9 percent, the highest of any of the security apps tested. The focus with 360 Mobile Security is firmly on detecting and nullifying threats to your system. It has a very streamlined, elegant design. It’s extremely lightweight, and it’s completely free.
A standard real-time scan will safeguard your device from malware, spyware, and the threat of infection. It’s also capable of detecting and fixing system vulnerabilities and cleaning up idle background apps to help your phone run more efficiently. There’s a privacy advisor and a tool to clear your usage history.
This app eschews a laundry list of extras in favor of a light touch. The only additional features you’ll find are call blocking options, some shortcut toggles, and safe browsing protection. There’s no anti-theft component or backup option.
For a good blend of usability and strong protection you should think about 360 Mobile Security. If you’re more concerned about smooth performance than extra features, it is bound to appeal.
From the big name security software brands Kaspersky (99.7 percent detection rate) and Symantec (99.6 percent detection rate) were the pick of the bunch, although they finished 11th and 14th overall in the last AV-Test report. Compared to some of the free options there’s really nothing there to justify the price tags.
At the top of the chart alongside Qihu’s 360 Mobile Security there were free releases from AhnLab and Antiy, as well as the expensive Armor for Android 2.1, but we wouldn’t recommend any of those. If you don’t want to go with any of our top three then your best bet would be ESET Mobile Security & Antivirus. Bitdefender and F-Secure also offer decent security suites.
And the winner is….
We’re going to discuss the issue of 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, 360 Mobile 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 360 Mobile Security then we’d recommend Avast.
If you’ve tried any of these apps out or you have another Android security app you feel is worthy of a mention then post a comment and let us know about it.
Article originally published on 8-1-2012.