Most of us have some sort of malware scanner or antivirus program on our computers, but what about our smartphones? A lot of people don't realize that computers aren't the only devices that are susceptible to malicious software and apps—they can follow you on your smartphone or tablet, too.
Google finally added a built-in scanner called the "application verification service" to its Play Store and Android operating system in November. The only problem is that a report published by computer science professor Xuxian Jiang found that the scanner only detects a little over 15% of malicious apps.
Earlier this year, AV-TEST evaluated 41 different malware scanners for Android, and the good news is that there are several third-party apps that are much better than Android's native one at detecting malicious software. Here are some of the best free and paid alternatives.
As far as free apps go, Avast! Mobile Security is one of the best.
It scans your phone for viruses, lets you know what apps are doing with your information, and even has a hidden anti-theft component to help get your phone back if it's lost or stolen.
You can schedule automatic scans and even monitor your incoming and outgoing data transfers. The Web Shield scans every URL you visit to make sure it's not infected, and can even filter out calls and text messages from contacts that you specify.
With all these features and an almost 5 star rating, if you're looking to protect your phone without shelling out any cash, Avast! is the way to go.
Another great free option is Bitdefender's Mobile Security & Antivirus. You get a malware scanner, application audit, and remote geolocation for free, plus a 14-day trial of the paid features, which include web security and anti-theft.
The scanner works in the cloud so it doesn't slow down your phone and can be updated anytime. After the trial is up, you can continue using just the basic features or upgrade for $9.95 a year to have access to the anti-theft and web security features.
Another one of the free apps that made the top of AV-TEST's list is Zoner. It has a virus scanner, theft protection with remote control, and call filtering like the two we've already covered, plus the added benefit of encrypted messaging.
It lets you know when you get a call or text from a suspicious number, and for those who have kids, the app also includes a parental lock so you can block outgoing calls. For tablet users, there's a separate version available here.
One of the most popular antivirus apps for Android is Lookout. The free version includes a scanner, find my phone feature, and a backup and restore function for your contacts.
After a two week trial, you can either keep the free version, or upgrade for $2.99/month to get more advanced features like remote wipe, photo and call history backup, and a privacy adviser to help you keep track of what apps are doing with your data.
This next app does things a little differently. Dr. Web uses its own algorithm which "allows detecting the new virus families using the knowledge database on previous threats. A unique record is created for each malicious program and describes the behavior algorithm of this sample."
The light version is just your basic antivirus protection with scheduled or on-demand scanning and two home screen widgets to choose from. If you want the more advanced features (theft protection, anti-spam, and URL checker), you'll have to fork over some cash (around 10 bucks a year) for the paid version after a 14-day trial.
If you already use an antivirus app, you can check out the full report to see how yours stacks up against the others. You can also try an antivirus test app like EICAR that's designed to be detected as a virus to see if your scanner works as well as it should.