Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Many pundits and Android users worldwide has feeling that antivirus or even anti-theft apps may not be needed in Android devices, as it is needed in Windows PCs. It's mere idea of installing security software on an Android smartphone might seem a little bit overboard. But fact is there are few important reasons which might enlighten us to consider it using in our latest smartphones.

Main Reason - Anyone (fraudsters included) can submit apps to the Google Play Store without pre-approval, and apps can also be downloaded and installed from a wide range of other  sources. That means Android users face a greater element of risk than those with iPhones or Windows Phone handsets, who can install only apps that have been properly vetted for safety. The more open nature of the Android operating system makes it more susceptible to the kind of malware that we have grown accustomed to dealing with on Windows PCs, even though it isn’t a problem on anything like the same scale. The security software test lab AV Test has no fewer than 1.8 million pieces of Android malware in its database – malware that is typically used to steal your valuable personal data from your phone without your knowledge.

Alternate Option to installing AV - You can simply choose to be careful about what apps you install or which websites you visit, rather than installing antivirus.

Other advantages of Installing Security Software
1. Such security apps routinely include anti-theft features. These won’t prevent the theft of your device, but they may allow you to lock or wipe the data from your stolen  handset. Some even include features that allow you take photos or audio recordings of the thieves. If you have merely left the phone lying in a bar or restaurant, the anti-theft features can be used to locate your handset, and display a message on the lost phone’s screen, providing instructions on how to contact you to return the handset.

2. Another useful feature commonly found in Android security suites is call blocking. If your mobile is constantly plagued by nuisance calls or spam  texts, you might be able to block the callers. But this won’t work when you’re being  plagued by pre-recorded calls hawking PPI refunds and the like, when the caller number is Unknown or Withheld. Some apps include schedulers in their call-blocking facilities, so you can divert all calls from the office to voicemail at evenings and weekends for example.

3. Some suites also include app managers that allow you to password-protect access to the browser or Google Play – invaluable for parents who routinely hand their phone over to children to play games and worry that they might run up horrendous bills.

Limitations - Less useful are the backup facilities found in many of these suites. Some merely back up contacts, which Android already automatically does when you sign in with your Google account, while others only offer a tiny amount of space to store your photos and files. The Google+ app, on the other  hand, can be set to automatically back up your photos, and that offers gigabytes of free space.

Now if you have decided or want to know which antivirus or anti-theft software apps to install on your device, here is five best Antivirus (and Anti-theft) Software for Android Devices

1. Qihoo 360 Mobile Safe
Usage Option: Free

360 Mobile Safe not to be confused with the lesser-featured 360 Mobile Security is the only app in this test that is completely free. It’s made by the listed Chinese company, Qihoo. Although free apps from relatively unknown  foreign companies raise our suspicion levels, we could find nothing untoward in the licence agreements. AV Test found little at fault with its malware detection, either, with Qihoo spotting an almost perfect 99.9% of known malicious apps. There are nice, clear notifications when a newly installed app has been scanned, and you can launch the app straight from the notification, which is a thoughtful touch. Its antivirus performance is less convincing as it failed to detect our test virus, even after a full system scan. However, Qihoo offers much more than mere malware scanning.

The smartly presented app includes a series of phone optimisation and clean-up tools that shut down unused memory-consuming apps and delete unnecessary system files, helping to keep low-powered handsets ticking more nicely. This clean-up facility can be started by shaking  the handset from the home screen, which also opens a basic Breakout-style game while the tidying is taking place. There’s an optional pop-out window, which is activated by tapping on a tiny indicator pinned  to the right of the home screen that displays how much of the phone’s memory is being used. Open it up, and you can press the Boost button to free memory, or activate other phone controls.

Other unusual features include a data usage monitor that helps ensure you don’t exceed your monthly download cap, and a private call/messaging vault, that allows you to communicate with selected contacts without those messages/calls appearing in the standard Android apps. Instead, they are hidden behind a password-protected screen, which is much easier to use and set up than Kaspersky’s version.

The call blocking tools are better than most of the others apps on test here,  too, with options to blacklist and whitelist callers, bar certain keywords in text messages, and apply filters to a schedule. One can block work calls at weekends also.

The anti-theft tools include options to locate and lock the handset remotely, as well as sound a blaring alarm or delete personal data from the device note, however, that this isn’t the full factory reset that we prefer, which means email and Play Store accounts are still dangerously exposed to thieves.

Another downside is that the anti-theft features can only be activated by SMS from another phone, not via a web console, and the delete data command can only be issued from another trusted number. This will prove the feature useless if you can’t get access to that secondary phone in an emergency. 

Verdict: A vast array of security and useful phone management tools, all offered without any charge whatsoever. We would like its antivirus to be more proactive and the anti-theft tools are relatively weak, but it’s harder to complain when it’s free.

2. Avast Mobile Security & Anti-Virus
Usage Option: Free and Premium

Avast Mobile Security & Anti-Virus offers an absolute barrage of handy security and backup tools for Android smartphone and Android tablet, although you’ll have to stump  up for the Premium Tools to access anything much past  the basic virus scanning.

The anti-theft tools, which are installed as a separate, invisible app that thieves can’t remove, are first-rate. Using a smartly designed web console or text message commands from another phone, you can potentially catch a thief red-handed by surreptitiously taking a photo with the phone’s front or rear camera, or by secretly recording audio, both of which are downloadable to your PC. Alternatively, there’s an option to shame a pickpocket by blasting out a siren that also reads aloud the message: “This phone has been lost or stolen,” which turning down the volume won’t silence. The phone can also be remotely located on a map, locked or wiped.

Other notable features include application locking, which forces a user to enter a PIN to open certain apps: handy for blocking off access to the Play Store or web browser if you routinely hand your phone to the kids to play games A built-in “firewall” allows you to bar certain apps from using 3G, Wi-Fi or roaming data, although the handset needs to be rooted for this feature, which we don’t think many people will do.

Call blocking allows you to bar calls or text messages from selected callers to a schedule of your choice.

The separate Mobile Backup app, free to download for Premium users synchronises copies of your photos, music, video and app files to a Google Drive account, although given that Android and various Google services already offer to backup much of this data, its value is limited.

Perhaps the weakest part of Avast’s service is, ironically, the antivirus protection. Whilst it blocked 100 percent of the malicious apps thrown at it by AV Test, it allowed  us to download and store  a test virus that other security apps quarantined immediately; only when we ran a full device scan did it detect and eject  the Trojan. Likewise, it didn’t bar us from opening websites in any of the genuine phishing emails we’ve been sent.

Verdict: A comprehensive suite of security and backup tools, with a particularly strong set of anti- theft features that could well catch a thief in the act. However, we’d like its antivirus protection to be more proactive.

3. Ikarus Mobile Security
Usage Option: 30 day Free Trial and Premium.

Ikarus isn’t one of the better known security brands, but its Android antivirus performance is right up there with that of the Windows household names. In the AVTest labs it nullified all of the malicious apps discovered in the past four weeks, which means you can download from the Google Play store with a little more confidence.

Ikarus quietly gets about its work for Android phone and Android tablet: when you download an app from the Play Store a subtle  notification pops up post-download to inform you it’s being scanned for viruses, and then disappears if it finds nothing amiss. However, it’s not shy when it discovers something fishy. 

The app itself is unshowy and has minimal impact on system resources or battery life, although it has far fewer features than rivals such as Avast. Virus definitions can be updated up to twice a day to make sure you’re protected against the latest  threats.

Setup is quick and fuss-free, too, with only three screens to deal with for setting  up text-message blacklists, website scanning and remote security features. Sadly, the implementation of those remote security features involves a great  deal of hassle.

You can remotely lock your phone by sending a text message with your password from another device. The phone rings repeatedly when you’ve remotely locked  the device.

The whole process of remote feature is handled via SMS, and the phone doesn’t need to be within Wi-Fi or even 3G range to be secured from a distance.

Verdict: A lightweight and unobtrusive security app, which has an impressive clear-up rate when it comes to detecting malicious apps. The remote lock feature is sometime problematic, however in tests done so far.

4. Kaspersky Internet Security
Usage Option: Free and Premium

Kaspersky recently merged its Android phone and Android tablet  security products into one, and it certainly looks the part now. The big shields that fill up to show you the completion percentage of virus scans and updates are about as user-friendly as these apps come, although in other respects Kaspersky antivirus can make life a little more difficult for the user than it should. However with a 100 percent success rate in detecting malware-laden apps in the most recent AV Test labs, you can be fairly feel secured.

By default, malicious apps is all Kaspersky will keep an eye out for. If you want file scanning and browser protection, you have to pay and, oddly, switch on the Extended Protection option in settings. 

The anti-theft features are limited compared to those of Avast, but they work well. Remote commands can be sent either via SMS or Kaspersky’s well-designed web console. The lock and locate feature pinpointed the position of our “missing” phone over both Wi-Fi and 3G, and the option to insert a custom message on the lock screen is a bonus for those wanting to offer passers- by instructions for handing in a lost phone.

The option to surreptitiously snap photos using the phone’s camera also did the job admirably, delivering  five crisp snaps that could well identify whoever’s using the phone. The wipe facility offers the option to merely clear off personal data or factory reset the phone, which is a step  up from Norton’s offering. The only anti-theft disappointment was the alarm, which merely produced a short, rather muted buzzer noise, which certainly wouldn’t help you locate a phone that had fallen down the back of the sofa.

The call-blocking feature is basic, allowing you to bar messages and texts from selected callers, but with no scheduling or logs of blocked calls. Privacy Protection, meanwhile, allows you to hide certain contacts from the address book, making you enter a PIN to see their details. However,  set-up  is clunky, and it’s a feature of limited benefit in our opinion. 

Verdict: A slickly presented antivirus package that does a decent job of proactive protection. A few usability flaws and a limited set of anti-theft and extras stunt its appeal, but then that’s reflected in the very reasonable subscription price.

5. Norton Mobile Security 2014
Usage Option: Free and Premium

Norton is one of the biggest names in the security business, and there’s no questioning that it knows what it’s doing when it comes to detecting apps known to be laden with malware and a score of 100 percent in the AV Test labs is proof of that. One might wonder if Norton is actually scanning new apps after he has installed the software and there’s no notification that it’s doing so, but one can turn these on in the app’s settings. Norton will also scan your web browser for suspicious activity.

Norton doesn’t offer as many anti-theft features as Avast and others and this is a limitation in them. The wipe-device setting, which like all of Norton’s premium anti-theft features, can be activated via SMS or through Norton’s web console is woefully ineffective. It doesn’t  perform a factory reset on the device, but merely clears out contacts, files and other personal data. Yet, it still left our Gmail account accessible on the device, as well as all our apps and access to the Play Store, potentially allowing thieves to have  a field day.

Locking the device is more effective. The lock feature doesn’t set off any audio alarms, which we think is a more sensible approach that’s less likely to put off a passerby from picking up a
lost handset and handing it in. You can also type a custom message on the lock screen, perhaps offering a reward for the safe return of the phone, which is a nice touch.

Location tracking proved a bit wayward in tests done.

Call blocking is also limited compared to Avast’s. You can choose to block a particular contact’s calls or text messages, or both, but there’s no scheduling, so you can’t divert work calls to voicemail at weekends for example.

Backup is primitive. Backing up only the contacts, a service that’s already baked into Android. 

Verdict: A vast array of security and useful phone management tools, all offered without any charge whatsoever. We would like its antivirus to be more proactive and the anti-theft tools are relatively weak, but it’s harder to complain when it’s free.

Conclusion - In terms of their ability to detect today’s recognised malware lurking inside Android apps, there is almost nothing  to separate our five contenders. Big differences emerge when it comes to the additional features they offer, though, especially the potentially valuable anti-theft features. Here, it was disappointing to see Norton Mobile Security fall behind the pack, especially given it’s the most expensive package. Ikarus is light on features, but it performs well and is significantly cheaper. Kaspersky offer solid packages, but have weaknesses. Kaspersky has a couple of notable usability flaws. Our top two picks are Qihoo 360 Mobile Safe, which packs  in an astonishing number of features for a free app, and Avast, which charges a modest fee for a wide breadth of features and the best anti-theft tools.


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