Shield your Android

Is your 'droid' device protected against increasingly devious virus attacks? If not, here are some life-savers

Shweta Taneja
First Published6 May 2014
A good way to protect your phone against malware is to disable apps downloaded from unauthenticated sources. Illustration by Raajan/Mint <br />
A good way to protect your phone against malware is to disable apps downloaded from unauthenticated sources. Illustration by Raajan/Mint

Of all the new threats against mobile operating systems in the second half of 2013, 97% were targeted against Android, according to the “Threat Report” released by security research firm F Secure Labs in March. It doesn’t end there. According to the report, India tops the list in reporting Android malware.

Given that 93% of Indian mobile Internet users are on Android, according to research firm International Data Corp., that’s not surprising. “Android is the most popular and widely used operating system worldwide, with over a million new devices being activated every day,” says Ritesh Chopra, country manager (India) at software security firm Symantec Corp. “When it (Android) gave smartphone users more freedom to install software from outside their official marketplace, it also opened the doors to malware authors, who have spent years honing their techniques,” he adds.

In a February report, Symantec stated that on an average, 272 new malware variants and five new malware families targeting Android were discovered every month in 2013. “These threats can steal your personal and financial information, track you, send premium-rate SMS messages, and display intrusive adware,” says Chopra.

Android has been designed with multilayered security to anticipate and tackle malware attacks on it as well as attacks on third-party apps in its official marketplace. But what Google didn’t anticipate was the illegitimate marketplaces on the Internet.

“Today, it’s Android’s compromised versions of legitimate apps that have become a problem,” says Sriram Raghavan, security and forensics consultant, Secure Cyber Space, a firm that helps businesses secure their Web presence. These versions are available on unregulated third-party Android marketplaces, or free versions of paid apps that can be downloaded from anywhere and installed. They work exactly like the paid app but with a slight difference; they have an innocuous additional code inserted in them, a malware. Raghavan believes security apps might offer at best limited protection.

Once the malware is inside your system, it can do anything, from getting access to voicemail, call logs, notifications, user passwords for apps, or even sending SMSes. “You can update your software but some malwares are smart and update with the operating system,” says New Delhi-based cyber security expert Dominic K. The best protection against malware is to disable apps downloaded from unknown or unauthenticated sources.

“Trust only the Google play app store or the device manufacturer’s online store,” says Raghavan. Also, never connect to open or unknown Wi-Fi networks and remember to install an authenticated remote wipe or lock app in the unlikely event that the device is stolen or lost. Plus, always lock your screen when the device is inactive. And of course, choose one of the apps we list here to better protect your device.

McAfee Antivirus and Security

Other than scanning the apps you install and checking your phone constantly for malware, the 4.0 version of McAfee updated in March, can wipe off your data and restore it from a backup if the phone is stolen. It can send an SOS and even take a snapshot of the person holding your lost device and email it to you along with the device location. It also offers multi-user profiles to control which apps others see on your phone, including friends, family and children. You can also block unwanted calls and texts. “We have frequent update cycles to enhance the product,” says Jagdish Mahapatra, managing director for India and Saarc (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) at McAfee, “with a major release happening every year which enhances the features and capabilities of the application.”; cloud backup at 70 per month. Free on Google play and iTunes.

Avira Antivirus Security

Avira protects your browser in real time, and automatically scans the apps you install for any malware or virus. In case you lose your phone, it can remotely track or locate it, or remotely lock or delete information from your device to guard your privacy. It can also prevent annoying contacts from contacting or texting you by blocking them. You can easily manage up to five devices from a single Web console.; premium version, $9.99 (around 600). Free on Google play.

Norton Mobile Security

Norton protects your Android device against malware attacks and identity theft in both cellphones and tablets. It has a unique feature—when the SIM card is removed from the device, the device automatically gets locked and encrypted so that all data on the device is secured. Norton also offers cloud backup for your contacts and data. In case the device is stolen, you can erase all data by sending a simple SMS.; 599 a year on Google play.

Trend Micro Mobile Security

Released in February, the new version of Trend Micro’s Mobile Security protects your phone against viruses, data theft and spyware. It automatically backs up your data, filters the Web, identifies bad apps and warns you before you install them. It has an exclusive feature that also detects risky settings in your Facebook profile and warns you about them. You can control the apps that can access your biography, who can tag you, who can see your photos, and more.; free app includes virus scanner, 50 MB of cloud storage and privacy scanner for Facebook. In-app purchases, or additional features, 249 onwards. Free on Google play.

Kaspersky Internet Security

Kaspersky Internet Security offers security for both phones and tablets. In 2013, Kaspersky Lab participated in 79 independent antivirus tests and reviews and finished with the highest rating 41 times. The app protects your device from spam, viruses, spyware, and updates itself regularly for a fast reaction to emerging threats. It automatically scans all the apps downloaded and blocks the dangerous websites on your Web browser. In case the device is stolen, it can track and locate it with GPS, Wi-Fi and Google Maps and also take a secret picture of the thief.; 599 per year on Google play.

avast! Mobile Premium

The avast! protects against malware and malicious apps, filters your incoming calls and SMSes and blocks any unwanted attention. In case your phone is stolen, the app protects itself with a PIN number so that it can’t be uninstalled by anyone except you. The app can also run in stealth mode in the background; you can change the name of the app, making it almost impossible to detect. It can take a backup of your contacts, SMSes, images and apps. The Premium adds in additional security features. You can lock individual apps for others using your phone. If the device is stolen, it can lock access and take a picture of the person attempting to unlock your device after three attempts to break in. It provides you the phone’s location and activates a siren. It also detects apps which use advertisements and provides details of their tracking systems.; 749 per year for the Premium version. Free on Google play.

KS Clean Master 5.1

With over one million apps vying for our attention in the Google play market, all of us would like a broom to clean up our Android devices every now and then. That’s where Clean Master comes in. It cleans junk files and boosts your RAM. Their team has conducted an in-depth analysis of thousands of popular apps to figure out the junk files that each app installs, and that eventually weigh down your device. It removes unwanted apps, bloatware, and can take a backup of important ones. “Clean Master helps delete cache and residual files to reclaim memory and improve performance on your device and SD card,” says Ling Yu, senior operator, KS Mobile, in an email. With a single tap, it can boost game performance, running apps and free RAM and speed up your device. What’s more, the app scans the system and the apps and protects you from viruses, trojans, vulnerabilities, adware and spyware.; free on Google Play and iTunes.

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