Avast for Android, feature-rich and free

Windows security suite Avast enters the Android market with a robust and free app.

First Take:

This free app from Avast is based on the Theft Aware app that it acquired when Avast purchased ITAgents in September. It contains a robust suite of Android-specific security features, including malicious app scanning, premium SMS blocking, link scanning, anti-theft measures, and two features that only work on rooted devices.

So with an impressive set of features, why did Avast--which runs a freemium business model for its Windows security suite--decide to go fully free on Android? Miloslav Korenko, Avast's marketing director, said, "Right now, we believe it's not about making money. It's about visibility. It'll be 2013 at best before we can monetize it. We don't want to differentiate on antivirus or antitheft, so we're giving it to the user for free."

The full list of features is remarkably comprehensive, if a bit overwhelming. In addition to scans of the internal memory and SD card for app malware, many Windows-style security features have been ported over, including on-demand scans, scheduling scans, and reporting false positives. Another port from the PC is integration with the Avast WebRep, a cloud-based service that scans each URL before it's launched. It will warn you if it links to a malware-infected site.

The privacy report looks at the permissions of installed apps and advising users of possible privacy risks. Text message and call filtering are both available, along with a series of in-depth options. These include redirecting blocked calls to voicemail, or filtering based on a start and end time, or the day of the week. Outgoing calls can also be blocked, a clever tool so you can hand the phone over to a toddler without having to worry about annoying your contact list.

Restricted to people with rooted devices is the firewall, which can disable Internet access on a per-app basis, just like a desktop firewall. You can customize the firewall's settings for each app to work with Wi-Fi, 3G, or data roaming.

The app manager will be familiar to users of Advanced Task Killer. It shows a list of running apps, their size, CPU load, used memory, number of services and threads, and an option to kill the app or uninstall it. Advanced Task Killer has come under a lot of fire for introducing instability to apps, so it's probably a good idea to use the Avast version with caution. But still, it's a good feature to include, if only for the option of having it.

Text message and call filtering are both available, along with a series of in-depth options. These include redirecting blocked calls to voicemail, or filtering based on a start and end time, or the day of the week. Outgoing calls can also be blocked, a clever tool so you can hand the phone over to a toddler without having to worry about annoying your contact list.

Text message and call filtering are both available, along with a series of in-depth options. These include redirecting blocked calls to voicemail, or filtering based on a start and end time, or the day of the week.

(Credit: Avast)

Avast Mobile Security also comes with tightly integrated anti-theft features. There's an App Disguiser option, for choosing a custom name to camouflage the app; Stealth mode, for hiding Avast from the app drawer and the status bar; SIM card notification, which can activate the siren, lock the phone, or send a notification to a remote device when an unauthorized SIM has been inserted. And since switching SIMs isn't always evil, Avast has included a SIM whitelist for cards that should always be allowed.

Another anti-theft tool is called Self-Protection. It disguises its components in the file structure, but on rooted phones, it can disable the phone's USB port and even survive a hard reset or factory reset. (Or at least, Avast claims it can. I haven't had a chance to test this yet.)

Two key components are lacking from this list. Avast doesn't have a Web portal, from which you can manage the phone. It's missing backup features, too. Backup won't be in the phone until 2012, possibly as late as second half of the year, but Avast did tell me that they plan to launch a management portal for deeper remote control of the phone sometime in the first few months of 2012.

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