Time was when the mobile phone in your hand could make phone calls, send text messages and precious little else. So why are the latest Android phones and tablets a target? Most smartphones are loaded with private data and this is a very attractive target for hackers. Not only that, the value of the data is higher than the expense of gaining access to it. See also Group test: what's the best Android phone.

See also:

What cybercriminals want the most are your bank credentials. As more and more people use mobile banking, this will only make the devices more attractive to criminals.

When deciding which smartphones to attack, hackers choose the path of least resistance. With Apple’s iOS software, which powers the iPhones, iPod and iPad, this is effectively a closed system. If a hacker wanted to put a rogue app on the App Store, he would first have to sign up for a developer’s account and provide real information on their identity.

After that, Apple employees vet all app code that is submitted to the store. Even, if an app managed to get past that hurdle, any reviews that flagged up a suspicious app would make Apple remove the app from the store in a very short space of time.

According to security researchers, Android is easier to crack. Google charges $25 for registration and the process involves filling out an online form, with little or no background checks. This means that hackers are more likely to look for exploits in Android than they would on iOS. Recently, Google introduced 'Bouncer' its servers with the aim of rooting out malware, but a multi-pronged defence is needed.

So how can you make sure your Android device remains malware free? As with Windows computers, anti-virus software is one solution. Here, we'll show you step-by-step how to download, install and configure AVG Antivirus Free.

How to install and use AVG Antivirus Free

1. Android phones have a variety of user interfaces. We're using an HTC Flyer tablet, but the process should be largely the same on smartphones. On the top row, tap on applications icon (other phones may have this elsewhere) and look for either Android Market or Google Play (Google has recently renamed its app store) and launch it.

Google Play

2. At the top is a magnifying glass: the search function. Tap on it and type in AVG Antivirus Free. It will then trawl through its database of apps and bring up a set of results, the application we want should be right at the top of the results. Tap on this to select it and then tap on the download button.

Search for AVG

3. Another screen will ask you to accept the download. It is important to be aware what the app will do on your phone, such as reading contact data, reading your browser history or finding your GPS location. If you are happy with this tap on Accept & download and then tap on Open to install it.

Accept terms

4. When the app is first launched you can review AVG’s terms of service and tap on Accept. Next you can configure the app by tapping on the menu button and then settings. In the settings you can update the virus database to keep it current and set the app to scan text messages, protect yourself from suspicious websites as well as change the file scanning speed.

Configure settings

NEXT PAGE: Run a scan and adopt other ways to protect your phone

5. After configuring the settings, tap the icon that looks like a painkiller capsule to start an initial probe into the inner workings of your Android device. It will scan apps, media, contents and settings for any suspicious activities. Once this has been done, the app will show a result of its scans detailing anything it has detected as being suspicious.

Start scan

6. There are many other features of the app such as registering for a free anti-theft service. You can access these by tapping on the menu icon at the bottom and then tapping on tools. There's also an option to scan files on your device’s SD card or internal storage. You can also password protect apps on the phone as well as backing up apps to an SD card.

Other features

Other ways to protect your phone

Mobile phones, particularly smartphones, are objects of desire, and that means to thieves and hackers as well. Here are a few further tips to keep you phone safe.

One way to keep the data safe from thieves is to password protect it. Normally this means a four-digit PIN that you can remember but isn’t easily guessable by others. Don’t choose 1066 or your birth year. New password techniques include swiping through a pattern of dots in a particular order to access your phone. Google's Nexus phone has face recognition so a thief would need a printed photo of you to unlock the phone.

Swipe password

Another top tip is to turn Bluetooth off when you're not using it. Hackers have been known to scan for phones with Bluetooth enabled to hack into your device and access personal information. A bonus is that disabling Bluetooth prolongs battery life, which means more talking or surfing time.

Sometimes you'll receive text and multimedia messages from people you don’t know. If that happens, be safe rather than sorry by deleting these - or at the very least refraining from following any links or calling numbers they contain. This will protect you from opening up something that could download a virus.

QR (Quick Response) codes are near-ubiquitous nowadays, while they're great for finding out more information on the latest movies or products in-store, sometimes hackers can print out a QR code on a sticker and leave it on a lamppost or somewhere public. Don’t let curiosity get the better of you. If you don’t know what it links to, don’t scan it.