Reports showing double-digit growth in the number of Android malware are easy to find. Unbiased research explaining options for protecting personal data is harder to come by. Security software tester AV-Comparatives is tackling the latter with an extensive review of 16 anti-virus products for Android smartphones.
Nothing is perfect
If you are looking for perfection in an AV product, then you should stop here. AV-Comparatives says no such software exists. However, some security apps are better than others, and the reviewer tries to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Nearly all the products tested had theft-protection features. One of the most important is the lock that prevents someone from opening the phone without the password. Others include remote wiping of data and the ability to get the phone's location after it is lost or stolen. In the case of the latter, it's best to let the police hunt down the thief.
Like their PC cousins, anti-virus on smartphones scan for malicious apps and can quarantine or delete them. Of course, malware signatures must be up to date for maximum effectiveness, so people traveling in other countries should be careful not to get suckered into paying roaming costs.
AV-Comparatives chose Android for testing because of its nearly 75% market share. The nonprofit tested 16 products in July using a Samsung Galaxy S3 Mini running Android 4.1.2.
Surprisingly, security software is less of a battery hog than people may think. The tests showed that the effect of security software on battery life can be "more or less ignored," if several precautions are taken.
If you decide to buy a product, than be sure it is configurable. You want to save backups, updates and malware scans for when the device is being charged.
A-OK AV products
The testing company gave its Approved Award to all the products it tested. Here are 12 of them and what AV-Comparatives believes are their standout features. I left out the four products only available in Chinese, Baidu, Kingsoft, Qihoo 360 and Tencent:
- AnhLab V3 Mobile. Innovative features that include file encryption.
- avast! Mobile Security. Available for free with a wide range of features, including a web interface.
- Bitdefender Mobile Security. A well-designed web interface that can manage multiple devices.
- ESET Mobile Security. Outstanding usability and good functionality.
- F-Secure Mobile Security and Trend Micro's Mobile Security. Both have comprehensive parental controls for keeping children safe.
- IKARUS mobile.security. Contains all the important features plus some more exotic ones, such as a URL blocker.
- Kaspersky Mobile Security. Hides text messages, call logs and contacts. A standout web interface has been added to the latest version.
- Lookout PREMIUM. An integrated backup feature prevents data loss by storing it in the cloud.
- Quick Heal Total Security. Extensive functionality and practical components, such as a backup feature and network monitor.
- Sophos Security and Antivirus. The product made a "quantum leap" from last year, AV-Comparatives said. The new version, free on Google Play, is a comprehensive security suite that is impressive in optical design and functionality.
- Webroot SecureAnywhere Mobile. Provides control of theft-protection features using both text messages and a web interface. It also has inspectors that find power-hungry apps.
Is AV needed?
So how great is the risk of infection on an Android smartphone? The answer depends on a number of factors.
If you live in a Western country and only use the official Android app store, such as Google Play, then the risk is low. This is particularly true if you do not root your phone. Rooting is the process of removing all limitations for accessing the operating system, enabling advanced users to do whatever they want with their phones.
If you live in an Asian country, particularly China, then the risk of infection is much higher. That's because people in those countries use rooted phones more often and visit many unofficial app stores. In addition, they often use their phones for online banking, making them a profitable target for successful crooks.
Nevertheless, low risk doesn't mean no risk and the evolution of mobile malware is moving quickly. So having a highly rated AV suite is a wise precaution.