The malware situation for Android doesn’t seem to be improving and although the vast majority of these malicious apps are spread via third party appstores (often in China or Russia) there have been quite a number of apps which, temporarily at least, made there way into the Google Play Store. It is estimated that in any given three month period around 50,000 new bits of Android malware appear, fortunately less than 150 of those actually make it into the Google Play Store. However 150 is still enough to warrant the use of an anti-virus app for Android. There are a whole range of anti-virus and security products available for Android, some are free, some are paid for, some are bad and some are great. Here is a round-up of some of the best.
avast! Mobile Security is a free app that includes a not only an anti-virus component but also a wide range of security tools including a privacy scanner, an app manager and a web shield that scans each URL and warns you if it’s a known malware-infected web site. It also includes a USSD blocker which stops any dangerous USSD commands like those discovered for Samsung smartphones in the later part of last year. For rooted devices it also has a firewall.
There is also a large number of anti-theft options including the ability to control your phone via SMS and perform actions like a history wipe, phone lock, and siren activation.
When you first run avast! it will automatically scan your device for any malware that has crept in unawares and then it switches to real-time protection mode. According to the Android antivirus tests carried out by av-test.org, avast is “easy to use and has many features to protect your device. With its very good detection rate it is one of the best security products for your Android device.”
Like many of the apps in this list AVG AntiVirus comes originally from the world of Windows and the humble PC. For Android it comes in two version the free app and the premium PRO version. AVG has come a long way since I reviewed it in 2012. It was a good product then and it is even better now. The UI has been updated and is much easier to use than previously. After installation you need to manually kickoff the first scan. Until you do the app will show some red warning indicators.
During the first scan AVG noticed that the phone was set to allow the installation of apps from external (unknown) sources. This is set on my device as I have the Amazon appstore installed. AVG is right, this does present a level of risk but the risk factor is low. Ticking “ignore this threat” will make the warning disappear.
Like many of the other anti-virus apps, AVG is more than just an anti-virus scanner. It includes a task killer, a battery optimizer, real time protection from unsafe websites and an anti-theft / phone location service.
The free version comes with 14 days of access to the PRO features which include an App Locker, which blocks the launching of an app unless the password is entered, and the ability to backup your apps to the phone’s SD card.
Bitdefender has a whole range of apps for Android including its Mobile Security & Antivirus app. The app is free to download and use but there is a caveat. When you first run the app you need to sign in either with a Bitdefender account or with your Gmail account.
Once in, you are prompted to run a full scan. Running the full scan checks the installed apps and the file on the phone’s storage. In the last phase the scanner attempts to contact Bitdefender’s servers (for what reason I don’t know) and this failed for me repeatedly. The app then reported “Scan failed. Check your internet connection.” I don’t know if the problem is with the app or with Bitdefender’s servers but when I installed it on a second device I got the same error. Because of this, the warning about running the first scan never disappears but the app does say that the real time scanning for app installation is still active.
The free versions comes with 14 days of access to the PRO features which include real time web browsing protection and the anti-theft service. Unlike many of the other premium apps, which charge a one time fee, to use the full features of Bitdefender you need to pay $9.95 per year.
Dr. Web Anti-virus Light is a free antivirus app for Android but unlike the offerings from AVG or avast! it doesn’t provide any additional security functions. Having said that it was ranked second during Android anti-virus tests carried out by av-test.org.
Unlike apps like avast!, when Dr. Web is installed it will not initially perform an automatic scan of the previously installed apps, nor does it automatically switch on real time protection. To do this you need to manually update the virus definitions, start a scan and then activate the “SpIDer Guard”. Once all that has been done Dr. Web behaves much like AVG and avast! in terms of real time app installation scanning.
For functions like anti-theft, anti-spam and URL checking to block potentially dangerous web sites Dr. Web has a full anti-virus app which costs around $13 per year (depending on which currency you pay with).
Ikarus is a new entry as it wasn’t covered in the previous best anti-virus for Android review. Made by the Austrian company IKARUS Security Software its heritage is impressive since the company was founded in 1986! Once installed the app automatically updates its virus database and starts a scan of the device. Once completed the real time app installation scanning feature is activated. The program also has a USSD blocker and it is possible to schedule scans of your apps and data to begin automatically (every day, every second day, every week and so on). The app did well in the av-test.org tests, coming fourth.
The full version, called IKARUS mobile.security 2013, includes anti-theft and phone locations features as well as SMS message black listing. There is no real time web URL checking or privacy advisor. The full version is quite expensive at $26.
Kaspersky Mobile Security Lite is the free version of Kaspersky’s full Mobile Security app with the main differences being the addition, in the full version, of a SIM watch option in the anti-theft protection, call & SMS filtering plus privacy features (which can hide designated contacts, and controls what others can see and access on your phone).
Upon installation you need to define a security code which is used by features like the anti-theft protector to activate different commands. There is no option to perform a scan on your existing apps or data but the real time scanning of newly installed apps is enabled by default.
The Lite version is quite limited and in many ways just serves as an demo for the full version. During av-test.org tests Kaspersky ranked 4th and the Lite version will do the same job in terms of detecting malware but with limited security functionality.
NQ Mobile Security & Antivirus is a free app with the option to upgrade to the premium version with extra features. Once installed the app performs a system checkup which includes downloading the latest virus information and scanning the installed apps. The real-time protection is automatically activated which includes malicious URL blocking. For several of the different online features like backing-up contact an account at nq.com is needed.
The UI is pleasant with swipe left and right used to access different parts of the app. A swipe to the left opens the tools section which includes an app manager, a network manager and access to the Internet protection subsystem.
The premium upgrade (which costs $19.99 a year) enables more anti-theft features (like sound an alarm, locate your phone, lock the phone and wipe) and anti-eavesdropping protection which alerts you if any form of spyware is installed on your phone.
Lookout Security & Antivirus is another free / premium offering. The security features are free but you need to upgrade to Lookout Premium for $2.99/month to get everything. On start up the app asks you to sign into lookout.com (or create an account if you don’t have one). Once past that step, there are a few screens about the difference between the free and premium versions and finally you get to the app itself. A scan of the existing apps starts automatically as does the missing device service. The real time protection for installing apps is also activated automatically. The free version also lets you backup your contacts to lookup.com. One interesting feature in the missing device functionality is called Signal Flare that automatically saves your device’s location before it runs out of battery!
The lookout.com website is surprisingly easy to use. You sign in with the same email and password created when you started the app and from there most functions including settings can be changed via the web. The missing device service works well enough and there is also a scream function that makes your device emit a loud siren for 60 seconds!
Missing in the free version is the dangerous URL blocking, the privacy advisor, remote lock/wipe and the ability to transfer your pictures and call history to a new device via lookout.com.
On first run this Zoner AntiVrus Free offers a number of choices including an initial scan of the device plus the ability to enable phone filtering (to block calls and messages from certain numbers). Once the scan is done real-time scanning of installed apps is activated and a warning is displayed about any settings that need your attention – like configuring the missing device service. There is also a permissions checker and a task manager. The addition of the missing device service and SIM protection are new since my last round-up of security apps.
A unique feature of Zoner AntiVirus Free is that it allows you to send encrypted messages to your friends. They also need to have Zoner AntiVirus installed. How it works is that messages are encrypted using a password and at the receiving end, the same password must be entered to decrypt the message and read it!
There is also a paid version called Zoner Mobile Security which adds Ads detection and the ability to backup & restore SMS messages and call logs.
The truth is that there are lots of decent anti-virus and security apps for Android. Here are a few which are also worth checking out.
F-Secure Mobile Security - This app isn’t free but it does come with a full range of security options including anti-theft features, browsing protection parental control (to keeps children safe from unsuitable web content) and safe contacts (which helps you to avoid unwanted calls or messages).
MYAndroid Protection Security - To use this premium app, you need to pay a yearly fee, however it is comprehensive in that it includes anti-virus, anti-theft, app backup and credit card & identity theft protection.
McAfee - This app is from the best known anti-virus company in the world and it boasts a whole load of features that go far beyond just anti-virus scanning. Along with anti-theft features, call blocking and safe web surfing, the app also includes uninstall protection that stops others from uninstalling the app and accessing your device. A free trial can be downloaded from Google Play. It runs for seven days then you need to purchase an upgrade from within the app.
All the apps listed here performed well in the av-test.org Android malware tests. The only problem is that those tests were carried out during March 2012, so the results are a little outdated. However it is unlikely that any of the apps have regressed in terms of their AV capabilities. If I was forced to choose I would go with avast! as it is completely free and offers lots more besides anti-virus scanning including a find my phone locator service. If you are not comfortable with using a completely free app then I would recommend AVG or Lookout. The improvements to Zoner were a nice surprise and have made it a worthy competitor.