You Need Antivirus for Your Android
The days of computer viruses that celebrated a birthday or proclaimed endless love are long, long gone. Modern malware coders are in it for the money. It’s a business like any other, and knowing the market is important. Windows and Android make excellent targets, because they’re just not as tightly secured as macOS or iOS. It’s important to install antivirus software on your Windows desktops, but you need to protect your Android devices, too.
Android protection doesn’t exist in a vacuum. The 10 products listed here are all cross-platform solutions, with protection available at least for Windows, macOS, and Android. Half of them also offer some form of iOS protection, though with a feature set that is limited by the closed nature of Apple’s operating system.
Note that the ratings apply to the product as a whole, on all platforms. They don’t necessarily reflect the quality of the Android product. Bad test scores on Windows might drag a product’s overall score down even if its Android edition tested fine.
Testing Results From the Labs
Do these Android antivirus utilities work? We look to three independent testing labs to find out. All of the listed products appear in results from at least one lab; four show up in all three.
Researchers at AV-Comparatives challenged each Android antivirus product to defend against over 3,000 prevalent Android malware samples found in the wild. Bitdefender and Trend Micro earned a perfect 100 percent, while the other tested products came close at 99.9 percent.
The latest test from AV-Test Institute hit 16 Android antivirus solutions with thousands of malware samples. Researchers also installed thousands more non-malicious programs, to make sure that the antivirus didn’t wrongly identify them as malware. They assigned each product up to six protection points for blocking malware, six points for minimal impact on performance and battery life, and six usability points for refraining from mistakenly blocking valid programs. Looking at our top ten, more than half earned a perfect 18 points, and no product scored lower than 16 points.
London-based MRG-Effitas tested a dozen products, most of which overlapped with our selection. The testers evaluated each product’s ability to detect and eliminate threats before launch, and the ability to detect and neutralize threats during install. They checked more than 160 samples, ranging from Trojans to adware, with some known valid programs thrown in to check for false positives. AVG managed 97.5 percent early detection and slightly higher on installation; we assume that Avast would have scored the same, given that the two products share a code base. McAfee stumbled, earning just 75.7 percent and 85.4 percent. Avira, Bitdefender, ESET, Kaspersky, and Norton achieved 100 percent in both tests.
Malware Protection and More
All the Android products include an antivirus component that scans new apps and offers an on-demand scan as well. All but a couple of them can also run scans on a schedule, a feature perhaps more useful on Windows than Android. All of them also offer some form of safe browsing, to keep you from surfing to URLs that might try to plant malware, or fraudulent sites that might trick you into giving away your username and password for the login page they imitate.
All these apps also check your installed apps for potential privacy problems. Typically, they flag programs that have permission to do things like view your contacts, scan your call logs, learn your location, or send texts. If a communication app needs access to contacts, that makes sense. If a goofy game wants to paw through your private info, however, consider deleting it.
All but one of them include antitheft protection for a lost or stolen device. The antitheft outlier is Norton, which dropped this capability in 2019. You can find your device’s location on a map. If you’ve just mislaid it around the house, you can trigger a noisy alarm to help you find it. You can lock the phone to keep a thief out of your apps and data. And if you determine that you’ll never get the device back, you can remotely wipe it. All the apps let you manage antitheft features using an online console. Most of them offer the option of triggering antitheft events using coded text messages, and many of them also surreptitiously snap a photo of whoever is using your device.
One of the first things a typical smartphone thief does is claim the device by swapping out the SIM card. Most of our recommended apps include some form of SIM card protection. Some of them lock the device on SIM card change. Others notify you of the new phone number, so you can still send those coded text messages to invoke antitheft features.
Blocking unwanted calls and texts used to be a common feature, but ongoing changes to the Android operating system have made it more difficult. Almost half our picks don’t offer this feature at present.
Antivirus and antitheft are core components for any Android security app, but some go way beyond the basics. Common bonus features include backup for your contacts and photos, a battery monitor to show which apps are killing your battery life, and a task killer to send those battery hogs packing. Several of the apps warn when you connect to an insecure Wi-Fi network. Bitdefender, Kaspersky, and McAfee let you pair your phone with your Android Wear, so if you walk away from your phone, your watch can remind you to grab it.
As noted, almost all these security tools scan your installed apps and report on those that might be privacy risks. Norton and Trend Micro take that skill to the next level, reporting on apps as you view them in the Play Store, so you can avoid downloading any that might be problematic.
VPN protection is more important on mobile devices than desktops, because mobile devices connect to a wide variety of networks. Kaspersky and Bitdefender both include a bandwidth-limited VPN with their Android editions. That’s nice, but Avast, Avira, and Norton include VPN protection with no bandwidth limit.
A few of these products feature less-common bonus features. ESET lets you time-schedule your call blocking, for example, to allow only family members to call you at night. Trend Micro offers to scan your Facebook settings and warn about any security problems.
Stay Safe on All of Your Devices
So, which one should you choose? It depends on just what you need to protect, but we assume you want a suite that at least installs on your Windows and Android devices. McAfee Antivirus Plus is an Editors’ Choice antivirus, with protection for unlimited devices. Kaspersky Security Cloud and Norton 360 Deluxe are both Editors’ Choice cross-platform security suites, and both get great lab scores on Windows and Android. Bitdefender Total Security likewise pulls in top lab scores and offers a cornucopia of features on Windows; it’s our Editor’s Choice for security mega-suite. You won’t go wrong with one of these four, but the others have their own merits. Click through the links, read the full reviews, and make your choice.
Where To Buy
Bitdefender Total Security
Pros: Top scores from labs.
All expected suite features perform well.
Ransomware and spyware protection.
System speedup and cleanup tools.
Many useful bonus features.
Cons: Features limited in iOS app.
Mediocre score in one of our hands-on tests.
Bottom Line: If what you want is every possible security component in one integrated package, Bitdefender Total Security is exactly what you need.
It’s an Editors’ Choice for security mega-suite.
Symantec Norton 360 Deluxe
Pros: No-limits VPN. Excellent scores in our phishing protection and malicious URL blocking tests. Hosted storage for online backup. Powerful, self-sufficient firewall. Supports Windows, macOS, Android, iOS. Virus protection promise.
Cons: Android anti-theft to be discontinued. Security protection limited on iOS devices. Parental control and backup unavailable on macOS.
Bottom Line: In addition to cross-platform security, hosted online backup, and a ton of security features, Norton 360 Deluxe gives you a no-limits VPN and full-featured parental control system that would cost plenty by themselves. It’s a high-security bargain.
Kaspersky Security Cloud
Pros: Protection for up to 20 Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
Includes security, parental control, password management, and VPN.
Online dashboard manages security.
Great per-device price.
Cons: Requires too many separate installations.
VPN bandwidth limited.
Some password manager features don’t work.
Password manager lacks advanced features.
Bottom Line: Kaspersky Security Cloud is a service that lets you install and manage Kaspersky security on up to 20 PCs, phones, and tablets.
The price is right, but we’d like to see more integration, particularly in the installation process.
McAfee AntiVirus Plus
Pros: Cross-platform, multi-device protection.
Good scores in hands-on tests.
Includes firewall, file shredder, and many other bonus features.
Cons: Some so-so scores from independent labs.
WebAdvisor’s Site Report didn’t work consistently in testing.
Bottom Line: A single subscription for McAfee AntiVirus Plus lets you protect every Windows, Android, macOS, and iOS device in your household.
It’s quite a deal.
Trend Micro Maximum Security
Pros: Protects five devices, all platforms.
Excellent scores in our antiphishing and malicious URL blocking tests.
Multi-faceted ransomware protection.
Many bonus features.
Cons: Some poor scores from independent labs.
Parental control limited.
Fewer features on macOS, fewer still on iOS.
Bottom Line: The excellent Trend Micro Maximum Security gives you five licenses for use on Windows, macOS, Android, or iOS devices, though you get a much richer set of features on Windows and Android.
AVG Internet Security – Unlimited
Pros: Very good scores in multiple independent lab tests and our own hands-on tests.
Includes ransomware protection and webcam protection.
Cons: Initial scan slower than average.
Unusually large impact in performance tests.
Bottom Line: You can install AVG Internet Security – Unlimited on as many PCs as you like, defending them with AVG’s powerful antivirus plus protection against ransomware, webcam peepers, and more.
Pros: No-limits VPN
Comprehensive system optimizer
Excellent scores from antivirus testing labs
Protection for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices
Includes Pro editions of all current and future Avira tools
Cons: Lacks many expected suite features
Browser-independent Web Protection seriously ineffective
So-so scores in our hands-on testing
Bottom Line: If you’re going to buy any Avira product, Avira Prime is the one to get, as it includes every free and paid tool from Avira. However, even with its entire posse of apps it can’t challenge the best cross-platform multi-device security suites.
Pros: Protection for Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
Good antivirus scores.
Simple spam filter.
Full-featured Android security.
Bonus features enhance security.
Cons: Some bonus features still require separate payment.
Protection relatively limited on macOS, very limited on iOS.
Ransomware protection failed in testing.
Bottom Line: Avast Premium Security is a full-scale suite, with an antivirus, a robust firewall, a simple spam filter, and a wealth of bonus features, but if you don’t need cross-platform protection, the company’s free antivirus is more cost-effective.
ESET Smart Security Premium
Pros: Good antivirus lab scores.
Includes password manager and file encryption.
Enhanced home network scanner.
Scans firmware for malware.
Cons: Password manager lacks advanced features.
So-so phishing protection.
Device control too complex for most users.
Limited parental control.
Bottom Line: ESET Smart Security Premium adds file encryption and a basic password manager to the features in ESET’s entry-level suite.
These additions don’t merit the higher price.
Pros: Protects Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
Remote account management.
Cross-platform parental control with remote configuration.
Privacy scan and call blocking on Android.
Finder for lost mobile devices.
Cons: Many-device licenses expensive.
Parental control limited on iOS, absent on macOS.
Windows behavioral protection component failed some ransomware tests.
Low antivirus lab scores on macOS.
Bottom Line: An F-Secure Safe subscription lets you install security software on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS devices.
However, it costs more and does less than the best cross-platform competitors.
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