Avast Mobile Security Review: Extra Safeguards but No Web Interface
At a Glance
Avast Mobile Security provides antivirus, Web, and app protection for your Android-based phone or tablet. Though the software isn't optimized for tablets, Avast says that it expects to offer better tablet support sometime in the first quarter of 2012. On phones, Avast provides features such as SMS and call filtering, remote locking, and remote wiping. For rooted phones and tablets, it offers a firewall and enhanced uninstall protection.
The first time you run the application after downloading and installing it, Avast Mobile Security will prompt you to complete the setup the first time you run it. Though setup is a bit more involved for AMS than for most other mobile security apps, it helps you disguise the antitheft component. Once you're done, you'll find that the main screen of the app lists shortcuts to each of the software's main features.
The Virus Scanner checks newly installed apps for malware and lets you perform on-demand scans of all installed apps and of the memory card content, whether initiated manually or on days and at times you schedule.
The Privacy Advisor searches for apps that have access to your sensitive data or device functions, and organizes them for you to investigate further.
The Application Manager lists running user and system apps. You can browse through the list and select an app to view its privacy information, force it to close, or access the app's system information screen.
The Web Shield integrates with the default Android browser and alerts you when it detects a malicious or phishing site, in much the same way that antivirus programs do on desktop computers.
The SMS and Call Filter lets you block communication with select numbers--useful when you don't want to be bothered or you want to ignore a certain person. You can specify who to block by choosing contacts and manually entering numbers, or you can block all hidden or unknown numbers. The app maintains a log, so you can see all blocked communications.
The Firewall, which works only for rooted phones and tablets, enables you to deny apps access to Wi-Fi, data, and/or cellular connections. This feature could increase your device's security, reduce battery drain, and save on data usage.
The Anti-Theft component provides remote functionality and SIM card protection. Keep in mind that initiating any of the remote-control functions involves sending text messages to your device from someone else's phone: As yet, Avast doesn't provide a Web interface for accessing them, though many competing security apps do provide such an interface. Avast says that it will launch a Web interface for this purpose soon.
Avast Mobile Security offers more than the usual array of remote features. Among them is the option to call a number remotely, possibly to get the new phone number after a change in SIM or to listen for clues as to where your phone might be. You can also retrieve recent SMS messages, contacts, and call logs, and you can set the app to forward SMS messages and call alerts to another phone.
To help locate and protect your device, Avast allows you to activate its settings remotely via SMS commands--for example, turning on the data connection and GPS, turning off USB debugging, and blocking access to the program manager and phone settings. In addition, you can set some of the general antitheft settings, such as the owner name, the custom lock message, and the password.
Aside from the remote functions, Avast Mobile Security provides some automatic antitheft features. You can lock the SIM card so that, if it's removed, the phone locks itself and sounds a siren (which says "This phone has been lost or stolen"). If the thief swaps out your SIM card, the app automatically text-messages the friend or friends you specified in the antitheft settings, informing them of them the new phone number and the current location of the phone. For rooted devices, the app can automatically prevent USB debugging to foil hacking via USB and to force the data connection on in order to help get the remote SMS commands through.
The app itself (including its uninstallation process) is password-protected by default, and the user must enter the correct four- to six-digit PIN to uninstall the software. On many other security apps, the usual uninstallation protection is fairly easy to bypass, but Avast Mobile Security supplements those methods with a few other techniques to help hide and preserve the antitheft component from thieves or snoops.
When you set up the app, it invites you to customize the name of the separate antitheft app it installs, which you can be named something inconspicuous so that thieves will have a harder time finding it. Avast can also hide this antitheft component from appearing in the app drawer. For rooted devices, it can even store the antitheft app and settings in a way that survives hard-resets of your device, so you can still remotely control your phone or tablet after a thief sets the device back to to its factory defaults.
Overall, this is a great app to protect your Android-based phone or tablet against malware and theft. It provides some extremely useful features--and it's free. But because it currently doesn't provide a Web interface for the remote location and antitheft features, you must be comfortable with sending SMS commands from someone else's phone if you do indeed lose yours.
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