Malware

Five Android antivirus products to add to your mobile arsenal

Scott Lowe highlights five free or inexpensive antivirus applications that are available for the Android platform.

Viruses, spyware, and other nasties -- such as trojans -- are commonplace on desktop platforms. Even the venerable Mac OS X operating system has begun to succumb to these threats, due to the rising popularity of the platform. As mobile devices gain traction, expand market share, and enable users to operate in new ways, malware is starting to find its way to these devices as well, necessitating a need to do what Windows users have done forever: Run anti-malware software.

Lookout Security and Antivirus

Michael Kassner, my TechRepublic colleague, recently covered Lookout in depth, and for good reason. Lookout Security and Antivirus is, by a wide margin, the most popular antivirus solution in the Android Market -- and it's free!

I'm not going to go into too much detail on Lookout since Michael has dedicate a full column to this single product but, due to its popularity, I felt it important to include it here.

NetQin Security & Anti-virus

Although NetQin provides antivirus protection, the product also has some other capabilities:

  • Antivirus. NetQin uses two virus scanning engines -- one local and one cloud-based -- to protect the device. Malicious content and sites are blocked behind the scenes and proactively.
  • Traffic monitoring. The tool also helps you protect your wallet by monitoring data usage. This allows you to, if possible, reduce data usage before you go over whatever monthly cap has been set by your provider.
  • Performance optimization. Manage device performance by removing old files and close unused apps with a touch.
  • Contacts backup. Contacts are the lifeblood for many businesses. The tool provides the ability to back up your contacts list to an in-built SD card or to NetQin's servers.
  • Anti-lost. NetQin allows a user to locate a lost phone, sound an alarm on it, and identify its location. It also provides the ability to remotely wipe a device that has been lost.
At a price of exactly free, it's tough not to give NetQin Security & Anti-virus a look.  Figure A below shows you the tool's home screen (despite the fact that it says NetQin Mobile Security Pro at the top, which costs $19.99 in the Android Market). Figure A

The NetQin Security & Anti-virus home screen

Anti-Virus Free

AVG has been in the antivirus business for a long time, and they've extended their presence to the Android mobile space with Anti-Virus Free. This free tool provides the following comprehensive set of security and other features:

  • Protects your device and apps from viruses, malware, and spyware with a real-time scanner
  • Helps you to secure your device by identifying insecure device settings and providing mitigating advice
  • Checks files for malicious software and security threats
  • Helps keep your device operating at peak efficiency
  • Helps you to completely wipe all data on the device

The Anti-Virus Pro version (for $9.99 USD) adds a number of additional features, including:

  • Data backup
  • Support from the vendor in the event of problems
  • Resource conservation mechanisms to help preserve battery life
Below are two screen shots from Anti-Virus Free. Figure B shows you the product's Settings page, and Figure C shows the product blocking malicious content. Figure B

Anti-Virus Free's Settings page
Figure C

Malicious content is blocked in real time

Antivirus Free

Creative Apps' Antivirus Free isn't as popular as the AVG product, but it is certainly no slouch. The reviews are generally positive with some grumblings about the ads that come with the product. Although not all of the products mentioned here serve ads, it's important to remember that developers need some level of support in order to keep making products. So, if you don't like ads, get a paid product instead.

Antivirus Free is pretty much exactly what it says. It's an antivirus program without a bunch of bells and whistles. In Figure D below, you can see the Antivirus Free service is running and scanning in real time. In Figure E, the product is notifying the user regarding malicious activity. Figure D

The Antivirus Free service is running
Figure E

Malicious activity notification

Dr.Web Anti-Virus Light

The final free product in this roundup, Dr.Web Anti-virus Light, has what you would expect in an antivirus application, including real-time scanning capability and an on-demand scanner that allows you to scan files whenever you want. All storage mechanisms, including SD cards, are scanned.

The paid version of the Dr.Web product, Dr.Wed Anti-virus ($4.99 USD), provides additional features, including the creation of black lists, which allow you to block incoming calls and messages from certain numbers. This is actually a really handy feature!

Dr.Web uses what they call the Origins Tracing for Android, an algorithm intended to specifically identify viruses designed to attack Android devices. From the product documentation:

"This algorithm allows detecting the new virus families using the knowledge database on previous threats. Origins Tracing for Android can identify the recompiled viruses, e.g. Android.SMSSend, Android.MobileSpy, as well as the applications infected by Android.ADRD, Android.Geinimi, Android.DreamExploid."

Dr.Web also uses a technique called the SpIDer Guard file monitor, which scans all files in order to try to save them to memory, thus protecting the system from security threats.

There are three screenshots below -- a quick scan in progress, the Security Center, and the paid version.

Figure F

A quick scan is in progress
Figure G

The Dr.Web Security Center
Figure H

The paid version of the product adds black list capability

Summary

There are a lot of free and inexpensive anti-malware applications available for the Android platform, and each of them have some unique features. The best part is that quite a few of them are full-featured and can meet the security needs for a wide range of devices. Let us know your experience with Android antivirus apps in the discussion thread below.

Read also

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

10 comments
dlnava
dlnava

I was about to install it and reading the Terms of Usage, it says that they are Chinese, headquartered in Beijing. With all the espionage sponsored by the Chinese government, how smart would be to give them access to all of your information stored in your phone? It is easy to assume that their ???cloud coverage??? goes through their servers and for anybody accessing email or financial sites through the phone???s web browser, there goes the keys to the castle.

HollyLouise
HollyLouise

This app is apparently what was causing my phone to burn up. Was actually too hot to hold. Two different devices, same model (Samsung Droid Charge). A long phone call with Verizon tech support isolated this program as possible culprit. Removed it, and voila! Battery lasts MANY more hours, and no overheating, which had also been causing unexpected shut-downs and reboots.

eschirm
eschirm

I used Lookout on my old WinMo 6 phone and really liked it. I have AVG on my tablet (Pandigital Novel). But I'm using Webroot on my Android phone. In addition to the AV / security features, my favorite thing with Webroot is the ability to block calls and text messages. All for free!

IT Pixie
IT Pixie

I have Webroot Mobile Security on my tablet and it works well for me (I like the safe browsing feature included in the free version), but I would love to see what others think... I also use Antivirus Free from Creative Apps and like it as well. NetQin and Dr. Web seem interesting... I'll have to check them out!

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

It is good to hear that there is a real signature scanner. All of the other "anti-virus" seem to be a blacklist of infected APK files. I would like a scanner that is not fooled by a simple name change. All of these products are too new and I would like more information about them.

jasondlnd
jasondlnd

Android needs antivirus. Is it really worth it to put up with the Antivirus merry-go-round users put up with on Windows? Personally, I'd hate to have to say, "Sorry, I can't use my phone...it has a virus on it." This really turns me off to the entire Android OS. I will not be purchasing any android powered devices now or in the future. The OS is just not secure enough against security threats.

IT Pixie
IT Pixie

The real question is if an OS is popular enough to warrant one... Hackers now-a-days don't just write malware for fun; they write malware to make money. If a OS doesn't have enough users for them to steal from, they aren't going to waste time to write some stuff to hack it. Anyone who thinks any OS is exempt from malware attacks is just asking for trouble...

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

All devices are subject to being bugged. Even a regular phone could be compromised. The difference is that there would be no way of knowing. On the Android platform it is open enough that the intrusion could be detected. If you are really paranoid then you wouldn't carry a cellphone at all.

jasondlnd
jasondlnd

About a year ago, when my old Motorolla flip phone died (literally...one morning, I woke up and the screen decided to stop working), my wife and I took a good look at Android phones. We decided not to purchase one, and thankfully, that was the right decision. With Android being as fragmented as it is, and now with the threat of viruses on the Android OS, we are REALLY glad we did not. I have as of yet to see benefits of Android outweigh the negatives of the OS. Granted, you can do some pretty nice things with Android (task killer, easily write your own apps, etc.), but those nice things come at a cost...carrier specific crapware that is difficult to uninstall without rooting the phone, a non-unified vendor-specific UI, terrible battery life, and now viruses. Android just isn't worth it.