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The best mobile security apps for Android and iOS

A mobile security app needs to do just one thing well: guard your phone or tablet and all the data on it. Good security apps come with a full set of tools to do the job.

At their most basic, security apps fend off malicious activity, and the best accurately detect malware without putting a lot of stress on you or your phone.

You can find excellent free antivirus apps that offers simple security. Free apps may include ads or unwelcome offers to upgrade to a paid service. For a price -- usually an annual subscription -- you can get a full-featured app that provides broader protection.

For example, a paid app may watch for intrusive activity -- such as phishing emails and unwanted calls -- and offer device protection in case your phone is lost or stolen. Many popular apps (like McAfee) offer a full suite of security services in one package, but a few (like Avast) let you choose a la carte which services you want to make part of your defense.

Note that Android gives security apps much more latitude to monitor suspicious activities than iOS does. iOS sandboxes apps to contain the damage a rogue app can do to the system. But by sandboxing apps, iOS doesn't provide the kind of access necessary to run antivirus software. On iOS, your extra security options are pretty much limited to backup, password-protecting folders and files, and securing lost devices.

Mobile security FAQs

  • What should I look for in malware protection?
    Look for an app that offers accurate and complete malware detection and removal. You can check the sites of third-party labs like AV-Test or AV-Comparatives to see current test results for antivirus software. Also check out how and when an app scans for malware. Can you schedule scans, so they don't start at an inconvenient time? Does the app depend on definitions to find known viruses or does it also use heuristic analysis to detect unknown viruses?
  • Can I locate a lost device?
    If you lose your phone, most security apps can help locate and secure it. If the phone is unrecoverable, you can use the tool to remotely lock and wipe your phone's contents. And if you suspect your phone has been stolen, you can send a message to whoever has it and can even snap a picture of the person.
  • Can I ensure I am browsing safely?
    Most security apps can monitor your online activity and notify you when you've received a potential phishing email, are trying to connect to a risky Wi-Fi network, or are browsing to a shady website. Security apps can also block unwanted phone calls and messages. If the app includes a VPN, that gives you a private Internet connection across a public network.
  • How else can I protect my data?
    Most security apps lets you password-protect individual apps and hide them if you'd rather not have someone find them on your phone. You can also password protect files and folders and have the app back up the contents of your phone in case of data loss.

Best mobile security apps

Bitdefender Mobile Security

Bitdefender Mobile Security

Bitdefender provides reliable protection against malware without a lot of fuss for you or strain.

TunnelBear VPN

TunnelBear VPN

TunnelBear VPN puts a friendly face on security, helping you protect your privacy.


1Password password manager

1Password from AgileBits securely manages your passwords, letting you sign in to apps, websites, and services with one master password.

Clifford Colby follows the Mac and Android markets for He's been an editor at Peachpit Press and a handful of now-dead computer magazines, including MacWeek, MacUser, and Corporate Computing.