Like Windows before it, the 'open' and widely popular Android system from Google has a weak security system that makes it prone to infection from dangerous malware (more than it affects iOS users). We reveal the best antivirus apps for both Android and iOS. (See also: Best Android apps.)
Best mobile antivirus 2016 UK
The idea of installing security software on a smartphone might seem like overkill, but there are plenty of good reasons to consider doing so.
Anyone – fraudsters included – can submit apps to the Google Play Store without pre-approval, and apps can also be downloaded and installed from a wide range of other sources. That means Android users face a greater element of risk than those with iPhones or Windows Phone handsets, who can only install apps that have been properly pre-vetted for safety. Nevertheless, every user is at potential risk from malware and physing emails and ads - so no matter the platform you're on, it's good to have a mobile antivirus program installed. Also see: iPhone 7 release date.
The more open nature of the Android operating system makes it more susceptible to the kind of malware that we've grown accustomed to dealing with on Windows PCs. Although the scale of the Android malware problem isn't yet as bad as it is on Windows PCs, it remains a threat all the same. The security software test lab Av-Test, has millions of different pieces of Android malware in its database – malware that is typically used to steal your valuable personal data from your phone without your knowledge.
Yet, even if you're careful about what apps you install or which websites you visit, there are other strong motives for installing a security suite. Such security apps routinely include anti-theft features, for example. Contrary to the name, they won't prevent theft but they may allow you to lock or wipe the data from your stolen handset. Some even include features that allow you to take photos or audio recordings of the thieves. If you've merely left the phone lying in a bar or restaurant, the anti-theft features can be used to locate your handset, and display a message on the lost phone's screen, providing instructions on how to contact you, in order to return the handset.
Another useful feature commonly found in security suites is call blocking. If your mobile is constantly plagued by nuisance calls or spam texts, you might be able to block the callers so that they don't interrupt your day. But this won't work when you're being plagued by pre-recorded calls hawking PPI refunds and the like, when the caller number is Unknown or Withheld. Some apps include schedulers in their call-blocking facilities, so you can divert all calls from the office to voicemail at evenings and weekends, for example.
Some suites also include app managers that allow you to password protect access to the web browser – invaluable for parents who routinely hand their phone over to children to play games and worry that they might stumble into something they shouldn't, or run up horrendous bills by purchasing apps.
Less useful are the backup facilities found in many of these suites. Some merely back up contacts, which certain apps already support the feature when you sign in with your Google or Apple account, while others only offer a tiny amount of space to store your photos and files. (See also: Best Android apps for new smartphones and tablets.)
Price: Free from the Play Store
Arguably one of the best all-round anti-virus companies out there, ESET has built a reputation for itself over the years for being a reliable, low-profile program on Windows PCs. The same principle applies for its Mobile Security & Antivirus version.
The app is free to download and use for 30 days and once the trial ends, you will still have basic protection for a lifetime without having to upgrade to premium (that offers all the bells and whistles).
The app scores very well in its Av-Test benchmarks, with a 99.9 percent score in its malware discovery and protection.
The app has a call blocker, message filter and provides you safe browsing functionalities. However, unlike the desktop version, you don't have parental controls, encryption or a way of backing up personal data.
Platform: Android 4.0 or later
Price: Free trail from the Play Store
The app has a grace period of ten days, where you will be able to trial the full functionalities before purchasing it.
AhnLab V3 is well received and offers anti-malware, call blocking, privacy features (such as a history cleaner for your browser), a speed booster (to increase the responsiveness of your phone), a way of hiding photos from your gallery and offers anti-theft features.
In Av-Test's benchmarks, the app scores very well with a 99.8 percent score in 'detection of the latest Android malware in real-time' and 99.9 percent score in 'detection of the latest Android malware discovered in the last 4 weeks' AhnLab V3 has a small footprint on your device, while providing the necessary security.
However, it doesn't feature a backup of personal data, parental controls nor a message filter for spam messages.
Platform: Android (v4.3 or later is recommended)
Price: Free trial from the Play Store
Bitdefender Mobile Security is free to download and use for 14 days, after which you will need to purchase a monthly or yearly subscription.
In its Av-Test's benchmarks, the app scores a full 100 percent in both real-time malware and discovery of malware on Android platforms.
It has anti-theft features, works with a wearable device, gives you web security alongside a privacy advisor and most importantly has a very effective malware scanner.
However, you won't be able to block calls, backup data or have any parental controls.
Price: Free from the Play Store
BullGuard is well known for its mobile security apps, particularly its Mobile Security and Antivirus app. The app is free to use, but if you want parental controls (including call and app monitoring, and GPS functionalities) you will need to purchase the premium version.
BullGuard scores very well in its Av-Test benchmarks with a 99.8 percent score for real-time malware protection and a full 100 percent in its malware discovery.
The anti-virus app is full of features: Call blocking, message filtering, parental controls (premium) and backup of personal data. It is however missing safe browsing, a key feature for a lot of people concerned about accidentally clicking on malicious sites.
The app comes with a free 30 day trial period. After the trial has expired you will still be protected, but won't benefit from its premium features.
Despite being on both Android and iOS, the Apple variant of the app is very limited - where it will help you locate your stolen device, but not provide you with a lot of the features found on Android. Given its cost, iOS users might be disappointed by its limited functionalities.
The app scores a full 100 percent in both real-time malware and discovery in its Av-Test benchmarks. It features a call blocker, safe browsing and a means of backing up personal data. However, it doesn't have parental controls or a message filter.