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The best Android antivirus apps for 2014

Posted on 27 Mar 2014 at 09:47

Paul Ockenden delivers his verdict on the best antivirus apps for Android smartphones

I received a couple of tweets from PC Pro reader Pete Bennett regarding Android smartphone security. As we chatted, it turned out he’d bought both of his kids Android phones, and was wondering whether he needed to install antivirus on them.

In my opinion, the typical PC Pro reader doesn’t need antivirus software on their phone. Yes, there are malicious apps out there, and websites loaded with dodgy code, but they’d steer clear of apps that ask for outrageous permissions, and wouldn’t click on links to suspicious-looking sites.

Kids’ phones are a different matter, however, since the little darlings are liable to download any old rubbish. Playground rumours about a great new fart app will result in links to dodgy websites spreading through social networks faster than chickenpox; before you know it, your kids’ phones will be filled with all kinds of malware.

It’s easy to pick up an Obad infection, especially via infected apps on fake versions of the Play store

A few years ago, I wrote that users needn’t worry about mobile viruses, since there weren’t many examples in the wild, and those that existed were fairly innocuous. This is no longer the case, especially on the Android platform, which has an openness and ubiquity that makes it the perfect target for malware-writers.

Take, for example, the Obad trojan, which appeared last summer. It’s a nasty bugger that can send SMS messages to premium-rate phone numbers, download further malware, and even replicate itself on other devices via Bluetooth. It was hard to detect, and hard to remove from an infected device. It was put together well, with obfuscated code and encrypted strings, and it spoke to an online command centre via a double-encrypted address. Indeed, its code was of better quality than many genuine apps in the Google Play store.

It’s easy to pick up an Obad infection, too, especially via infected apps on fake versions of the Play store, which spring up from time to time. It’s easy to land on one of these if you do a Google search for an obscure app; the fake Play stores often look just like the real thing at first glance. To stay safe, always check the URL, or perform your search via the genuine Play store.

Anyway, back to Pete’s kids. As the above suggests, I think it would be wise to install a security product, and I’ve been testing a few packages over the past few months. Like most apps, they come in free and paid-for versions, although the detection quality doesn’t seem to vary much between them – most of the main security products detect the most common Android threats. The big differences between the products tend to involve ease of use, and the variety of extended security features on offer.

App options

In my opinion, the best free product right now is Avira. Many of the free products are rather limited, but Avira includes call blocking, remote tracking and locking, all of which are features that other vendors reserve for their paid-for versions.

If you’re willing to pay a small sum for your mobile protection, my recommendation is the premium version of Eset Mobile Security & Antivirus. For a tenner a year – or less, if you sign up for several handsets, or more than one year – this offers many of the same facilities as Avira, but with a few bells and whistles, including an anti-phishing facility and a security audit of your device that shows which apps have certain privileges and rights assigned to them. You may discover, for example, that among the list of apps that genuinely need to access your location, such as Google Maps and Facebook, there’s also your copy of Angry Birds.

I’m a big fan of Eset’s user interface – it’s easy to configure, and it sits in the background consuming few resources. It doesn’t have a noticeable impact on battery life, either, which is important for a security app.

One thing you’ll discover with all these Android security apps is that they can’t automatically uninstall apps infected with malware; you’ll need to do this manually. This is due to Android’s built-in security, and it shouldn’t be a big deal for most users. (Actually, if you’ve "rooted" your phone – that is, applied a hack that lets any app run with system privileges – some security products can automatically uninstall suspicious apps. However, if you’re running your handset with root access enabled, dodgy apps are the least of your security worries.)

For Pete and his kids, my recommendation is the paid-for version of Eset, plus sensible instruction about online threats: what they are; what dangers they pose to kids; and what damage they can do to their phones. The last point is the clincher, since kids will be much more careful about online security if they know that dodgy apps or suspicious websites can knacker their precious phones.

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User comments

I find the free version of Avast very good and unobtrusive.

By curiousclive on 27 Mar 2014

heise Security in Germany

recently analysed the various Android AV solutions and found that most of them also do internet site checks, the problem is, they send the complete URL to the AV company - including all parameters, such as username and password or personal information.

Even worse, they send them over http to their servers for checking, even if the site you are visiting is SSL secured, which means the parameters, which would passed encrypted between the phone and the site are sent in plain text to the AV company!

Under the list were Avast, ESet, Kaspersky and McAfee, as far as I can remember. They were contacted and all said that they would work on fixing the problem.

By big_D on 27 Mar 2014

Correction

Avast and AVG were the worst culprits, sending all parameter information, but the others were sending the data unencrypted.

http://www.heise.de/security/meldung/Android-Viren
scanner-schnueffeln-Surf-Verhalten-aus-2121229.htm
l

I also dug out my copy of the magazine, Eset was the only one to get a good mark.

Those that failed were AVAST, AVG, Dr. Web, Lookout and Symantec Norton Antivirus

By big_D on 27 Mar 2014

There is another factor to consider here. Operating System and any manufacturer customisations.

For example, I have a Moto G with KitKat 4.4.2 and consequently some applications are unable to offer the full gamut of security features on my phone.

Kaspersky site 'technical limitations' of KitKat for the lack of privacy protection functionality available with KIS for Android. The version of Hangouts on KitKat is the cause if set as default SMS program.

Also, Antitheft and location conflicts with the Motorola implementation.

The best solution for me was to remove it and go with something simpler that provides core malware protection. I have Bitdefender Free Antivirus installed now which has a miniscule footprint being cloud based and works quietly in the background.

By mr_chips on 27 Mar 2014

Doesn't Android now include through Google services location tracking and remote wipe similar to find my iphone?

By tech3475 on 27 Mar 2014

yes it is called Android Device Manager. It can be downloaded from the play store if not already on your device. compatible with Android 2.3 upwards.

By mr_chips on 27 Mar 2014

Sophos

I've used the Sophos solution on my Android devices for the past few years - unobtrusive, well featured and free, from a company which provides one of the better enterprise AV solutions in my opinion.

By MattLevy on 3 Apr 2014

Sophos

I've used the Sophos solution on my Android devices for the past few years - unobtrusive, well featured and free, from a company which provides one of the better enterprise AV solutions in my opinion.

By MattLevy on 3 Apr 2014

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Paul Ockenden

Paul Ockenden

Paul is a contributing editor to PC Pro specialising in smartphones, mobile broadband and all things wireless. He's technical director of a combined IT and marketing company, which works on websites and intranets for several blue-chip clients.

Read more More by Paul Ockenden

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