Everyone knows (or they should, by now) that you need an antivirus package on your desktop or laptop computer. There’s a lot of different kinds of nasty malware out there, and you need to be protected. But what about your smartphone or tablet? Does your Android phone need an antivirus? What about your iPad? Your BlackBerry or Windows Phone? The answer is actually a bit complicated.
The short answer is that yes, you probably need some sort of security app on your smartphone or tablet, because there are security vulnerabilities in these devices. But how likely you are to be faced with malware and what your options are for protection depend greatly on your device.
Because Android app stores, including Google’s own store, have a tendency to be pretty lax when it comes to screening apps, they regularly let in quite a few apps that contain Android-specific malware. Ransomware is an especially insidious threat that’s been popping up more over the past few years (the FBI ransomware is a good example), and protecting your phone against it could save you a lot of trouble if you accidentally download a malicious app.
Android has a near-monopoly on mobile malware threats, with some reports showing over 95% of mobile malware targeting this operating system. Fortunately, here are a number of high-quality Android antivirus and antimalware apps available, and choosing one really comes down to which interface you find easiest to use. The latest (at the time of this writing) AV-Test.org tests gave top marks to Alibaba Mobile Security, AVL by Antiy, Baidu, BitDefender, BullGuard, ESET, G Data Kaspersky Lab, Qihoo 360, and Sophos antivirus apps.
To get these high marks, the apps had to pass detection tests on over 3,000 pieces of real-world malware, have a minimal effect on battery life and performance, and not trigger false alarms. A number of these apps also include other features, like ESET’s Security Audit and Qihoo 360’s Privacy Protection.
You can also install apps that provide a firewall for your Android phone, like DroidWall, though most of these require that you root your device, potentially exposing it to further danger. Adding a firewall does give you another layer of protection, but because of the ways in which Android phones are usually attacked, a firewall isn’t totally necessary.
Guarding yourself from malvertising is another important step in protecting your Android phone. Because malvertising has only recently become a major threat, there are fewer options for protection. Disconnect, a great privacy extension for your browser, offers an anti-malvertising solution called Disconnect Malvertising that you can download for your Android device as well. And using the Adblock Browser, powered by AdBlock Plus, will stop ads from loading in the first place.
You hear people say on a regular basis that you don’t need antivirus software on OS X or iOS, because iOS is basically a scaled-down version of the Mac operating system. You do need antivirus software on your Mac, though . . . so do you need it on your iPhone or iPad, too?
The antivirus/antimalware situation on iOS is quite a bit different from that on Android. Apple keeps a much closer eye on its App Store than Google and other Android app providers do on theirs (the “walled garden” approach), which means you’re less likely to download malware from the App Store. For this reason, Apple doesn’t even allow true antivirus apps into the App Store — they’re just not needed (at least according to Apple).
Apple also created iOS from the ground up to be very secure, so full-system scanning apps aren’t allowed in the App Store. The security apps that you find only have limited scanning ability—often for email attachments or single files, for example. This makes them rather ineffective as antivirus apps, but because of the low chances that you’ll actually need one, that’s not a problem.
If you jailbreak your iPhone to download non-App-Store-approved apps, that’s another story. If you’re getting apps from other repositories, there’s a good chance that you could download something nasty, and there’s a precedent for it — quite a few people have dealt with iOS malware on their jailbroken devices. If you’re looking for a good jailbreak antivirus solution, you’re on your own — independent antivirus testers don’t run tests, and because the big names in antivirus don’t offer full antivirus apps for iOS, it’s tough to know which to trust.
Malvertising is still a potential attack vector, though. Disconnect Malvertising is also available for iOS, and the Adblock Browser will help keep you safe from malvertising, too. If you use these two apps, you should be pretty safe from most of the threats out there for iOS, unless you jailbreak your device, in which case all bets are off.
Like Android, BlackBerry doesn’t take the “walled garden” approach to their apps that Apple does, so some nefarious apps do slip into the app store from time to time (interestingly, however, one of the recent pieces of malware that hit a lot of BlackBerry users also affected iOS devices). The number of people using the BlackBerry mobile OS is significantly smaller than those on Android or iOS, so it’s less profitable for hackers to target BlackBerries . . . even so, running an antivirus app on your phone is a good idea.
Again, because this isn’t as big of an issue as Android malware, the big independent testers don’t run tests on BlackBerry antivirus apps. However, both Kaspersky and BullGuard offer apps for BlackBerry, so you do have options. I’m not aware of any browser-ad-blocking apps for BlackBerry, though there is an app called Ad Blocker for BlackBerry that blocks ads within apps. If you know of an adblocking solution, please share it in the comments!
Windows Phone & Windows 10 Mobile
Windows 10 Mobile doesn’t have nearly as big a user base as Android or iOS, so it’s targeted quite a bit less. In fact, in 2013 and 2014, there were reports that Windows was the least-targeted mobile operating system. However, the new Windows 10 Mobile operating system is being touted as a scaled-down version of desktop Windows, meaning that it’s quite possible that standard desktop malware could be pushed to mobile Windows platforms.
If you’re still on the Windows 8 Phone operating system, getting an antivirus app from a brand like Kaspersky or Norton is a good idea, especially if you’re getting apps from third-party app stores. Because we don’t have much information about Windows 10 Mobile yet, it’s too early to say what your options will be or how likely you are to need them. Stay tuned!
Do You Use Antivirus Apps on Your Smartphone or Tablet?
Your risk of downloading malware depends very much on the mobile platform that you use, as do your options for preventing it. No matter which smartphone or tablet you have, though, it’s probably a good idea to run at least some protection. Do you already use a security app? If not, will you download one after reading this article? Let us know which platform you’re on and whether you’ll be protecting yourself from malware in the comments below!
Image credits: Crystal Alba via Shutterstock.com,