How to choose an Android antivirus app

Keeping your Android device secure starts with an antivirus app.

You probably don't need convincing about the importance of keeping your Android device secure, starting with a good antimalware app. But if you do, just look to all the security breaches this year, from hacked emails and secret Android back doors to the recent Gooligan Android exploit that has affected more than 1 million accounts. Here's how to choose an Android antivirus app.

Basic steps for protecting your phone

First, be smart about what you download and click. Many mobile security breaches happen because a user downloaded an app from an untrustworthy site or clicked a deceptive link. Google reports that devices that download apps from outside of Google Play are around 10 times more likely to have a potentially harmful app than those that install only from the Play store.

Google Play Store

Next, take simple preventive measures: Set a screen-lock password and keep your Android OS and apps up to date. See our guide for advice on securing your Android phone.

Then, install and use security software. We have a handful of favorites -- including Bitdefender and Avast -- that accurately detect malware without a lot of fuss or strain on system resources. To find out if an antivirus app is up to the task, check AV-Test, an independent lab that performs monthly tests on security apps.

Bitdefender Android Antivirus

Most Android security apps go beyond watching for malware by offering a variety of related protective services, from antitheft controls and phishing guards to call blocking. While many of these functions are also built into the Android OS (Google's Android Device Manager can help you locate a lost device, for example), you may decide it's more convenient to turn over everything to one security app.

What to look for in an Android antivirus app

Some security apps let you add features a la carte, so you can tailor the protection to match your preferences; others apps offer most of the tools by default. Consider these capabilities when choosing an Android security app.

Malware detection is critical. Look for a security app that is a good match for your temperament. Some can be alarmist. Others constantly pester you. Most seem ever vigilant, while a few are so unintrusive you can't tell if they are on duty. A few seem to spend more time trying to upsell you to paid apps than guarding your phone. Most security companies offers free versions of their apps, so it's easy to take them for test drives before committing.


Antitheft controls allow you to locate and track a misplaced phone. If the phone is unrecoverable, you can use the tool to remotely lock and wipe the contents of your phone.

Password managers keep track of all your passwords -- for websites and apps -- and lets you activate them with just one master password. This is beyond handy if you follow best practices and create unique, strong, and unrememberable passwords for everything.

Phone call and message filtering lets you block unwanted phone calls and SMS messages by adding phone numbers to a blacklist.

Network and Web monitoring helps you surf the Web safely by notifying you when you are connecting to a risky Wi-Fi network or browsing to a shady website.

App locking lets you password-protect individual apps and even hide them to protect your privacy.

A VPN, or virtual private network, lets you create a secure and private link across a public network. If you use public Wi-Fi networks, a VPN can shield your data from eavesdroppers. While a few antivirus apps include a companion VPN, you can easily find a separate VPN to meet your needs.

OpenVPN Android

About Clifford Colby

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.