There are a bewildering number of security apps out there, all designed to keep your phone and precious data safe from malware, thieves, and snooping apps that want a peek at your personal information. Having a crowded, competitive market is a good thing for consumers, but it can also be overwhelming. Here’s what to look for in a mobile security app.
The good news is that although there are very real threats out there (I write about them every week!), smartphone malware isn’t nearly as ubiquitous as PC malware. A lot of credit goes to Apple and Google developers, who have worked hard to provide nearly malware-free app stores for their users. Security companies, too, have clearly learned from the horror-show of digital security in the 1990s.
According to AV-Test, the average Android security app detects 98 percent of malware, with several products routinely detecting all the samples used in the evaluation. But some apps take far too long to scan your phone for nasty software, and others have badly configured features. For example, I love it when a security app will let me whitelist a suspicious app I know to be safe, but I don’t like it if I can’t remove the app from the whitelist later, should it turn sketchy.
More than malware, security experts agree that it’s loss and theft that are the most pressing issues for smartphone owners today. Both Apple and Google have powerful anti-theft tools baked into their respective operating systems and most security companies offer even more features to keep you in control of your phone—no matter where it is.
A good security app will offer both a Web portal and SMS commands to remotely control your phone. I recommend testing the anti-theft tools to make sure you understand what they do to keep you safe, and that you have them configured correctly. Some security apps will remotely lock your phone, but still allow thieves to see messages in the notification tray. Also, look for apps that let you create a PIN or authorize the devices that can send remote commands. You don’t want a security app being used to spy on you. And it’s too late to configure the app once thieves have your phone.
Most mobile security apps now include safe-browsing features, the most robust of which actively scan Web pages for malicious code and known phishing scams. App reputation tools break down what information your apps can access, helping you decide whether an app is worthwhile or a risk to your personal security and identity. A good app reputation tool helps you make your own decisions by giving you lots of clear, useful information about each app. If you have kids, you’re probably concerned about keeping them safe online, too.
On desktop computers, the best parental control software will do more than just filter content; it can limit time online and block your young ones from sharing personal information over the Web. Unfortunately, most parental controls provided by mobile security apps are typically limited to content filtering, so active parenting is still a critical security component in the mobile world.
Focus, Not Features
My biggest complaint as a reviewer is that security companies are seeking to differentiate their mobile products by stuffing them full of non-security features. Battery optimizers? Memory managers? Sure, why not! The thing is, these features don’t actually keep your phone safe. Instead, they just clutter the interface of otherwise worthwhile apps. I’d like to see developers rein in their feature-creep tendencies and focus on better design and smarter protection tools instead. When you go to download protection for your mobile device, try a number of apps.
Most security apps have generous free trials, and other apps are completely free to begin with. Try out the big names, and see which makes sense for you. Use all the features so you understand how they work, and to help you decide if they work for you.
Source: PC Mag
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