A more up-to-date version of this article is available: Top 20 Android Security Apps.
While Android security has been in the news quite a bit lately -- just a couple of weeks ago, several apps were removed from the Android Market because they contained malware -- the good news is that Android devices are able to support a wide range of security functionality that runs in the background, from automated backups to virus scanning.
What’s more, the most essential security precautions for your Android device, like password-protecting the device itself and setting it to auto-lock after a specified period of time, don’t require an app; both of those features can be accessed within "Settings -> Location & Security."
And most Android devices now offer a variety of unlock options, including a numeric PIN, a password or a graphical pattern (the last of which was found last year to be easily compromised, according to researchers at the University of Pennsylvania).
If you want to take your device’s password protection one step further, products like App Protector Pro ($1.99), Seal ($2.88), Smart Lock ($1.40), Perfect AppLock Pro ($1.33) and Application Protection (free) also allow you to password-protect applications on an individual basis.
And with an ever-growing number of apps available, what follows below certainly isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s intended to give you a good sense of some of the options available when seeking further protection for your Android smartphone -- and for the data that resides on it.
Malware and theft protection
In response to the increase in malware, there are many more Android security apps available than there were just a few months ago. In most cases, it’s not necessary to look for separate solutions for anti-virus scanning and theft protection, as most developers offer several security features within a single app.
Each product offers a slightly different range of functionality, and since all of these apps are relatively new, their feature sets are likely to evolve as well.
The Lookout security suite (free) offers anti-virus protection, basic data backup, and a missing device locator, which can be used to show the device’s location on an online map and sound an alarm from the device itself. A premium version ($29.99/year) adds remote lock and data wipe functionality, along with privacy protection and enhanced backup.
McAfee WaveSecure ($19.90/year) doesn’t offer anti-virus protection at this point, though it does provide backup and restore functionality, as well as the ability to locate, lock or wipe a device remotely. When locked remotely, the device can also be triggered to display a customizable message, such as a phone number to call if the device is found.
Kaspersky Mobile Security ($29.95/year) includes anti-virus protection, along with the ability to lock or wipe a device remotely, to display a customized message with your contact information, and to locate a lost device using GPS, GSM or Wi-Fi. Other functionality includes SIM card lock, call and SMS filter, and privacy protection.
AVG Mobilation offers two Android security apps: Anti-Virus Free offers anti-virus protection, security monitoring, backup (in beta), and the ability to locate a lost or stolen device, set a lock screen message remotely, and lock and wipe the device remotely. Anti-Virus Pro ($9.99) adds the ability to check all SMS messages in real time for malicious content and spam, along with premium support and no advertising.
Similarly, Webroot offers two versions of its Android security app. Webroot Mobile Security Basic (free) includes anti-virus protection, secure Web browsing, device locator, remote device alarm, remote device lock, and call/SMS blocking. Webroot Mobile Security ($14.99/year) adds SIM card lock, remote device wipe, a device settings security audit, and app privacy inspector.
AegisLab also offers two options: AegisLab Antivirus Free (free) offers anti-virus protection and network usage monitoring, while AegisLab Antivirus Elite ($7.99) adds remote lock and remote wipe as well as phishing URL checks for SMS messages.
NetQin Antivirus (free) includes anti-virus protection, contact list backup and restore, and the ability to locate a lost device, lock and/or wipe it remotely, and sound an alarm on the device.
Trend Micro Mobile Security ($3.99/year) includes protection from downloading malicious apps, parental controls, phishing protection, and the ability to block unwanted phone calls or text messages.
Norton Mobile Security (free), currently in beta, includes anti-virus protection, device locator, remote lock, remote wipe, SIM card lock, phishing protection, and call blocking.
GadgetTrak Mobile Security ($19.95/year) includes advanced hybrid positioning to locate a lost device, as well as device alarm, remote data wipe, SIM change detection, and secure encrypted backup.
To manage all of your passwords centrally, LastPass ($12.00/year) combines an Android app with a PC-based browser extension. A master password provides access to a cloud-based password vault, and the app and extension can fill in site passwords for you automatically, both on your PC and on your Android smartphone. Despite a recent data breach, LastPass remains one of the most secure and best-operated password management solutions.
The standalone SplashID Safe ($9.99) password manager application can be used to store passwords, credit cards, PINs and more on an Android device, guarded with 256-bit Blowfish encryption. Optional desktop software ($19.95) can be used to sync the data with a PC.
Similarly, Callpod’s Password Keeper ($29.99/year) offers military-grade encryption along with cloud data backup, as well as Wi-Fi data sync to the company’s desktop software.
The mSecure Password Manager ($4.99) includes 256-bit Blowfish encryption and an optional self-destruct feature that destroys data if someone tries to guess your password. The app uses mBackup and mSecure to sync and back up your data to desktop computers and other devices.
Jeff Goldman is a freelance journalist based in Los Angeles. He can be reached at email@example.com