Proponents claim that Android malware is so common you are certain to get infected without adequate protection, while critics say that as long as you’re careful about what you download you will ultimately be safe.
The truth is somewhere in the middle; Android security apps extend beyond anti-virus — there are firewall apps, anti-phishing apps, and other anti-malware apps that also need to be considered.
Here we take a look at some of the best security apps out there…
Note: some of the apps below cover multiple security vectors, but for each one we’ve highlighted what we believe to be its strongest assets.
CM Security is one of the most popular antivirus apps on Android. It has more than 16 million reviews (with an average rating of 4.7 stars), it’s been downloaded almost half a billion times, and plays nicely with almost every version of Android.
It consistently ranks near the top of AV TEST’s independent app analyses, with the most recent results in January 2016 scoring it at 4.5/5 for protection and 5/5 for usability.
Its features can be split into two parts – the anti-virus protection and the “AppLock” functionality.
The anti-virus protection lets you check for malicious Wi-Fi hotspots, fix system vulnerabilities, and scan new apps, file systems, and websites. The developer claims that the system scan is 500 percent faster than its rivals. It also boasts great anti-phishing tools, with real-time scanning of URLs and instant warning notifications.
The AppLock will automatically take a selfie of anyone who entered the wrong password twice, let you lock individual apps to keep your data safe from prying eyes, and block unwanted calls – among other things.
The PC version of the software forms one part of the triumvirate of free anti-virus protection that dominates the market (along with AVG and Avira), and the Android version has been steadily growing in popularity.
Like CM Security, it offers extensive protections. They include a virus and malware scanner, a Trojan removal tool, an app permission management tool, app locking, and a call blocker. It also scores highly on AV TEST, detecting 99.2 percent of the latest Android malware.
Unlike CM Security, however, it does not include features to control or observe the activity of children.
Its standout feature is arguably its anti-theft provisions; you can control your device via SMS, remotely lock and wipe it, force it to sound an alarm, and prevent USB debugging.
NoRoot Firewall is the most popular firewall app by some distance.
It works by creating a mock virtual private network (VPN) then rooting your apps’ traffic through it. In short, it gives you complete control over how and when individual apps can access the web.
This has many benefits. For example, you can see whether apps are accessing ad data, or prevent apps from using valuable bandwidth.
When an app tries to go online, you’ll receive a pop-up notification. You can then permit or deny its access, and save your choice for future attempts. You can also control if an app can only access the Internet over Wi-Fi, mobile Internet, neither, or both, allowing you to prevent cloud storage services from syncing, or apps from updating while you’re away from a Wi-Fi connection.
Lastly, you can create filters based on IP addresses, host names, or domain names.
Note: the developer states that the app will not work on LTE networks, but that the team are working on a fix.
Kaspersky is another well-known antivirus suite in the PC market. Its Android app is free to download and use, but it really starts to shine if you pay for the premium version ($14.95 USD per year).
That’s because the paid version unlocks the anti-phishing features, an area in which it’s best-in-sector. Naturally, it offers real-time phishing protection while using your web-browser, but it will also scan text messages, WhatsApps, and emails for suspicious links.
The premium version also unlocks privacy controls and cloud protection, while the free version provides a powerful anti-virus scanner, anti-theft tools, and a call and text filter.
Before we begin, it is important to highlight that this app needs your device to be rooted. If it’s not rooted, it won’t work. However, if you do have a rooted handset, it is arguably more powerful than the aforementioned NoRoot Firewall.
Unlike its competitors, it functions on IPV6 (and by extension, LTE networks), it has a VPN control, a LAN control, tether control, and boasts a lock pattern for application protection. Of course, it also offers all the same features as NoRoot Firewall such as blocking by connection type, IP addresses, and host names, etc.
It works by editing the iptables Linux firewall and it’s unclear whether simply deleting and reinstalling an app would edit these, so if you ever want to delete AFWall+ make sure you reset these to the defaults first!
Malwarebytes Anti-Malware claims to protect you from “malware, infected apps, and unauthorized surveillance”, and like it’s PC-based cousin, it is entirely free to use.
Many of the app’s functions are the same as the PC version. For example:
It will detect and delete malware (including spyware and Trojans)
It can scan malicious code and Potentially Unwanted Programs (PUPs)
It can scan for security vulnerabilities
It monitors location-tracking apps
On the privacy front, it will constantly monitor which apps have access to your data and what they are sharing with third-parties, presenting it all in an easy-to-follow list. You can then enable/disable permissions from that list.
Which Apps Do You Use?
There are many apps that didn’t make this list, all of which deserve an honorable mention.
AVG, Lookout, and 360 Security are all excellent antivirus programs, LostNet NoRoot Firewall and Firewall Gold are worthy firewall apps, while services like mSecure (passwords), Ninja SMS (encrypted texts), and SSE (universal encryption) all have an important role to play.
Which apps do you rely on to keep you safe while using your device? Do you even believe in Android security apps, or do you fall into the “they’re unnecessary” camp?
We’d love to hear your opinions and tips. You can get in touch via the comments below.