Mobile security

17nov mobile security hero default

Are premium mobile security apps worth the money?

You wouldn’t hesitate to protect your PC from online nasties, but what about your phone? Anti-malware protection stops harmful programs by monitoring your browsing and downloads. If malware does slip through, the app’s scanning detects and removes it.

From our test

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Stopping a thief

Anti-theft tools are features that can make recovering your phone easier and protect your data from thieves. Accessing these features usually requires logging into a website or sending your phone an SMS (text) message. Remote tools rely on the phone’s location setting being enabled and your phone needs to be connected to the internet.

Remote locking

As soon as you realise your phone is missing, locking it should be your first step. Once activated, this prevents anyone from opening your phone and accessing the information stored on it.

Locating

This shows your phone’s current or last used location, usually on a map or as a set of coordinates. Accuracy varies, but you’ll likely get within a few hundred metres of your device.

Remote wiping

Remote wiping lets you delete data from the phone. Common wipe functions include deleting SMS messages and emails, contacts and calendar entries. Some apps let you trigger a complete factory reset.

Other remote tools

  • Remote scream emits a loud noise from the phone.
  • Remote camera access allows you to take photos or video.
  • Some apps let you send a message to the phone’s lock screen.

Is premium worth paying for?

Most security app developers have free and premium versions. Interestingly, our testing found “premium” often didn’t mean better security. The difference in protection between the two versions was usually less than half a point. So why shell out for a premium version? You’re paying for no ads and extra features, such as anti-theft protection and parental controls.

How to keep your data safe

  • Enable safety features in browsers – some browsers, such as Chrome and Firefox, have built-in safe browsing tools to identify malicious websites. In these browsers, this feature is enabled by default.
  • Read the Ts&Cs and privacy disclosures – they may look like tough reads, but these documents outline what happens to your data once you start using the app.
  • Check what permission you’re giving to apps – when installing an app, you will usually be asked to allow it permission to access certain data on your phone. If anything seems odd, such as a clock app asking for access to your contacts, then don’t download it. Mobile security apps do need access to almost all of your phone. This is usually so they can perform remote functions such as lock and wipe.
  • Be careful on wireless networks – Whenever you use public WiFi, make sure you have a mobile security app installed and use a virtual private network (VPN). A VPN hides your identity from anyone else on the network.
  • Mobile security apps communicate with the developer’s servers to ensure the app is up to date and to improve malware detection. This data can also be shared or sold to third parties, such as advertising agencies and analytics companies. In these communications, details about your phone and usage will be shared but you won’t be identified by name or email address. However, it is data that represents your phone usage, so it should be protected when being transferred. Encryption, the process of disguising data using a unique key known only by the sender and receiver, is the best way to ensure the security of data in transfers. Our test found both the premium and free McAfee, Norton, Avast and AVG apps secured data using encryption when communicating with their own servers. However, no app encrypted all data sent to third-party servers.