Keep your Android device safe with these mobile security apps

Losing your smartphone or tablet means a lot more than you being unable to check in on Foursquare or snap funny cap photos: These devices are privy to a lot of sensitive information that can wreak untold emotional (and financial) harm if they fall into the wrong hands.

Being really, really careful isn’t enough—take your Android phone on a trip to the wrong website, or tap a little too freely on a curious link from your best friend, and you could be in for some security headaches. And if you like to dabble in the Wild West of unsigned Android apps, taking precautionary measures is one of the best steps you can take to keep things secure.

Fortunately, the Google Play marketplace has plenty of options for keeping your mobile devices safe—many of which won’t cost you a dime. You back up your computer to prevent loss of data, and likely run an antivirus application on your Windows PC to keep things secure; now it’s time to take the same measures for your Android device. These apps can help.

Lookout Mobile Security (Free; $3 per month for Premium)

Lookout Mobile Security has proven to be a favorite amongst Android antivirus offerings, and its clean interface and fairly robust offerings continue to impress.

The free app will scan files you’ve downloaded and apps you’ve installed to check for malware and viruses. It also goes a bit further: If you’ve lost your Android device, you can head to Lookout’s website and attempt to track it down—the app will sound an alarm (whether or not the phone has been silenced) to help you pinpoint its location in case you misplaced it, or shock would-be thieves.

If someone tries (and fails) to get pass the password lock on your device, the app can even snap a photo of the perpetrator and send you an email with their image and location. The Lookout website will also attempt to find your device’s last known location, sending out an email alert—dubbed the Signal Flare—when your battery becomes critically low so you’ll have a better chance of tracking it down.

Lookout’s premium offerings will set you back $3 a month, and they include the ability to lock your phone and wipe its data remotely, or even transfer data like photos, contacts, and call history to a new device. You’ll also gain access to Privacy Advisor, which serves up a concise list of the information that installed apps can access. Downloading the app gets you a free two-week trial of the premium offerings, which should leave you with plenty of time to decide if the upgrade is right for you.

AVG Mobile Antivirus (Free; $15 for Pro version)

AVG has been an antivirus industry mainstay on PCs for years, and earned top honors among free antivirus offerings in PCWorld’s real-world malware attack tests. AVG’s mobile incarnation is no slouch, either: The free app will scan apps, files, and email attachments for malware and viruses; help you track down your missing device and display its location on Google Maps; and let you lock and wipe your device remotely.

Also, AVG has seen it fit to bundle in a number of “tune-up” features aimed at helping you get the most out of your phone: You can shuffle apps and games between your SD card and internal memory to help manage space, monitor the amount of 3G or 4G data you’ve consumed to avoid hitting any monthly data plan limits, and kill tasks that might be slowing down your device.

AVG’s Pro version costs $15, and offers tech support, the ability to back up your apps to your SD card, and an App locker that will let you password-protect individual apps or your settings to keep your device locked down should you want to share it with friends or family. That price tag is a bit steep, but downloading the app gives you access to a 14-day trial of the pro features.

Trend Micro Mobile Security and Antivirus (Free; $30 for Premium)

Trend Micro joins the long list of PC antivirus software developers to jump on the mobile antivirus bandwagon, and while its sleek app locks a number of interesting features behind the premium version, it’s worth checking out. The free version of Trend Micro’s Mobile Security and Antivirus app is limited to Threat Scanner, which scans the apps you’ve downloaded and installed to protect against viruses and suspicious or malicious activity. The app also includes free tech support, albeit limited to email and customer support forums.

If you’re willing to shell out $30, you’ll get quite a bit more. The premium version of the app offers Parental Controls to keep minors away from age-restricted websites, the ability to locate lost devices, and the features to remotely lock and wipe the device if you can’t find it. It can even lock the device entirely if the SIM card is removed.

You can also set up whitelists and blacklists to keep spam and unwanted callers at bay, and have access to technical support by phone and online chat. If you’re only interested in having that first line of defense against malicious apps, the free version of Trend Micro’s app should be plenty. That said, downloading the app gives you access to a 30-day free trial of the premium offerings, so you can always give it a whirl and see if its right for you.

Avast! Free Mobile Security (Free)

The name says it all: Avast! Free Mobile security will scan your device for malware and viruses, and it does so free of charge.

There’s quite a bit more lurking under the surface: The app can help you track down a lost or stolen device by plotting its location on Google maps, track network usage statistics to weed out data hogs, and filter text messages and calls from spammers or folks you’d simply rather not talk to. If you’ve rooted your Android device, you can even set up a firewall to have complete control over what apps can access the Internet. And you can also sign up for an Avast! Web account (it’s also free) to tweak your phone’s antitheft settings from your browser.

Here’s an interesting feature: If an unscrupulous individual gets hold of your phone and swaps out the SIM card, Avast! will notify you of your device's new number, which could make tracking down your stolen device decidedly easier. If you regularly swap SIM cards on your device, you can also set up a whitelist of approved SIM cards.

Avast! offers a slew of features, a sleek interface, and it’s completely free; there’s certainly no harm in giving it a try to see how your device holds up.

Kaspersky Mobile Security (Free Lite version; $15 for Premium on Google Play; $10 for one-year subscription)

If you’re just looking for a simple app to stop malicious apps and viruses from worming their way into your phone, Kaspersky’s Mobile Security Lite joins the list of capable contenders. The free app can scan your device for potentially harmful apps, remotely lock and wipe your phone if it's lost or stolen, and block any unwanted calls or text. The feature list though pales in comparison to apps such as Avast! and Lookout.

If you want a bit more, you’ll have to buy the full Kaspersky Mobile security app. It will also filter out malicious or hijacked websites, and will let you hide sensitive contact information, as well as text and call logs. Its Mugshot feature will snap photos of unauthorized users who try to access your phone, even if the SIM card is swapped out.

Kaspersky’s app might not offer the same robust offerings some of the other free apps on this list provide, but it consistently performs among the top tier of mobile security apps when tested for malware detection rates.

Norton Mobile Security Lite (Free; $30 for Premium)

Norton is arguably one of the most well-known names in antivirus protection for PCs, and the company’s pedigree extends to its popular mobile antivirus app. Norton Mobile Security Lite is just part of a slew of apps the company has made available for protecting your Android devices, and the free app is focused on scanning your devices for viruses.

It will scan the apps and updates you’ve installed for potential vulnerabilities, and alert you if it finds any suspicious apps or files that can slow your hardware down. It will also scan SD cards for threats when you pop them into your device, which can be especially useful if you regularly install applications that aren’t available from official channels.

Norton’s premium offerings line up neatly with the paid competition. Spend $30 and you’ll be able to remotely lock or wipe a your lost device, and set the device to lock instantly if the SIM card is removed. The premium version will also allow you to send a message to your device should it go missing, in the hopes that a Good Samaritan will hear your pleas to return it. The premium app will warn you about suspicious websites that may host malware, and can block calls and text messages from spammers, or folks you’d simply rather avoid.

McAfee Antivirus and Security (7-day free trial; $30 per year)

McAfee Antivirus and Security rounds out the list of Android antivirus offerings. It’s a name you’re probably familiar with: Trials of its security suite have come bundled with many new PCs, and its mobile app has worked its way into Android tablets from companies like Acer as well. The lack of a free version is upsetting (especially in light of the excellent competition), but the seven-day free trial should offer up enough time to see if its offerings are right for you.

McAfee’s app scans your devices for suspicious files and apps, and it can block access to malicious websites, text messages that contain suspicious links, spam emails, and even QR codes. The app can lock and wipe your device remotely, and lock down access to personal data—even files installed on your SD card. You’ll also be able to locate a lost device (provided it still has Internet connectivity) and sound an alarm to help you track it down. You can also use it to block unwanted text messages and calls, and you can lock individual apps to keep friends and family from snooping on your device.

The app also attempts to prevent unauthorized users from uninstalling it. All of the app’s settings can be controlled from McAfee’s website (after you’ve registered for an account), which could prove useful if you’ve misplaced your device, or simply want to adjust things while you’re away from it. And like most of the apps listed here, McAfee’s mobile security app earned top honors on the malware detection tests, which should offer some peace of mind.

For comprehensive coverage of the Android ecosystem, visit Greenbot.com.

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