Antivirus software is something many people associate only with Windows PCs and laptops, but it’s crucial to run it on your Android phone too.
Android is as big a target as Windows and just as vulnerable to viruses. Unlike Windows, there’s very little in the way of built-in protection. Google tries to weed out virus-ridden apps from the Play Store, but plenty slip through its net, so you can’t rely on that.
And viruses aren’t simply an annoyance, displaying unwanted adverts: the people – the criminals – who make this malware are coming up with ever-more inventive ways to hack your phone and – ultimately – steal your identify, money and more.
The good news is that running a top-notch antivirus app on your Android phone (or tablet) will help to prevent these nasties from getting anywhere near your device. In many cases they’ll help protect your identity as well.
As with Windows, there’s a choice of completely free antivirus apps for Android as well as those you need to subscribe to (even though the app itself is free to download and install).
The same differences apply: free apps don’t include all the features you get in paid-apps.
One drawback of certain free Android antivirus apps is a lack of real-time monitoring. This means they’re not constantly watching out for malware. Instead, they wait until you open the app and press the ‘scan’ button to check for any problems.
This manual approach isn’t what you want, but it doesn’t apply to all free antivirus apps.
Although you might be trying to save money by searching for free Android antivirus, do bear in mind is that a paid subscription usually covers multiple devices, so for a few dollars or pounds per month you can install comprehensive protection on your Windows and Android devices (and, usually iPhones, iPads and Macs too).
If you’re looking for this kind of protection, see our recommendations for the best antivirus software.
These days, Android antivirus apps do a lot more than you might think. They often include a VPN, warn you of possible scams, manage your passwords, prevent unauthorised apps from using your phone’s cameras and microphones, and allow you to remotely erase the device if it’s lost or stolen.
Below, you find our pick of the best antivirus apps for Android.
1. Bitdefender Mobile Security & Antivirus
- Excellent malware protection
- Lots of useful extra features
- VPN limited to 200MB/day
- Free version includes antivirus only
There are two versions of Bitdefender for Android. One is the completely free Bitdefender Antivirus app and the other is called Mobile Security for Android, which isn’t free.
The former does one job only: protects your Android phone or tablet from viruses. And it does a fantastic job: in AV-Test’s most recent report, Bitdefender caught 100% of viruses thrown at it, all without affecting the device’s performance or battery life.
That might sound great, but you get a lot more protection in the Mobile Security & Antivirus app. One of the most useful is warnings of potentially dangerous links in SMS and other messages and notifications to help you avoid being scammed.
App lock is great, too. Not only does it let you prevent access to specific apps using a PIN, but you can configure it so apps remain unlocked for 30 seconds after you close them or switch to another, or stay unlocked when your phone is on a trusted Wi-Fi network (such as your home’s).
There’s also Web Protection which warns you of websites that could be dodgy, whether you’re using Chrome, Firefox, Opera, Edge or one of a few other web browsers.
Add to that the identity protection, which alerts you if any of your email addresses are found in breaches, and some useful anti-theft features and it’s a great all-round security app.
Yes, you also get a VPN, but it’s a limited, cut-down version of Bitdefender’s full VPN service. It’s just about ok for a bit of web browsing, but you’re better off with a separate VPN app. There are a few other limitations: it doesn’t to block calls, back up data or have any parental controls, but for everything else it’s an excellent package.
If you want security for just your Android device, Bitdefender Mobile Security for Android costs a very reasonable $14.99 / £9.99 per year. The alternative is to buy Bitdefender Total Security which lets you install the app on up to five devices, including PCs, laptops, Macs, iPhones, iPads and Android smartphones and tablets. At the time of writing it cost $44.99 / £35 for the first year, rising to $89.99 / £69.99 after that.
2. Norton Mobile Security
- Top-notch protection
- App advisor warns of dangerous apps before installation
- No free version
Norton used to offer free Android antivirus, but no longer does. This means you’ll have to pay, but there are various options from the single-device subscription (Norton Mobile Security) that costs $15 / £9.99 (for the first year), a Norton 360 for Mobile single-device subscription for $50 / £40 and Norton 360 Deluxe which protects five devices for £85/$105 per year, but discounted to £30/$35 for the first year.
And, unlike in years gone by, everything is integrated into a single app: there’s no need to run separate apps for antivirus, VPN and ID protection.
Like Bitdefender Mobile Security, it scored full marks in AV-Test’s latest report, blocking 100% of threats and having no impact on performance or battery life.
As well as malware protection you get warnings of potentially dangerous text messages, websites and Wi-Fi networks. But it’s the App Advisor which really shines, alerting you to possibly dodgy apps in the Play store before you even install them, as well as installed apps using too much data or exhibiting suspicious behaviour.
Beyond this, so long as you’re subscribed to a version of 360 and not the basic Mobile Security, you also get to use Norton’s no-limits VPN and its dark web monitoring service. All versions come with call blocking and lost or stolen device recovery.
3. Avast One Essential
- Good free version
- 5GB per week VPN
- Constant nagging to upgrade
One Essential is the latest security suite from Avast and it’s available for Windows, Mac and iOS as well as Android.
You can install and use it for free and get a lot of features without paying. But you’ll see lots of messages to ‘Go Premium’, including when ‘Advanced issues’ are found during the initial scan. In fact, these are simply features you’re not getting as a free customer, which is a bit cheeky.
The good news is that although a lot of permissions are required for everything that Avast can do, these are only requested when you try to use that feature, such as cleaning out junk files and ‘Web Shield’ which warns you of dangerous sites before you visit them.
As well as top-tier malware protection, there’s a built-in VPN that gives you a generous allowance of 5GB per week. You can’t choose a location unless you’re a paying customer, but for privacy when browsing the web or using public Wi-Fi, it’s a genuine bonus.
There’s also the option to check for any data breaches, and you can enter an email address to check even if you’re using the app without having created an Avast account.
Paying customers get notifications when their email is spotted in a data breach, but free users have to check manually.
There’s no call-blocking, no warnings about dodgy links in text messages and no anti-theft features, but if you’re just after free antivirus, One Essential is a great choice for Android users.
If you did want to upgrade to Premium, it costs $38.99 / £31.99 for the first year and $77.99 / £64.99 thereafter, but this covers any five devices.
4. McAfee Security
- Good identity protection
- Great malware protection
- No free version
- Some expected features missing
McAfee used to offer a free Android antivirus app called Mobile Security. That’s been replaced by McAfee Security – which integrates the previously separate VPN.
You’ll need a subscription to use it, though. Even if you want to take advantage of the free trial, you’ll need to sign up for an account.
Of course, the core malware protection remains the same as in the old app, and it blocked 100% of malware samples in AV-Test’s most recent report. In fact, McAfee would have had a clean sheet in all tests if it hadn’t flagged a legitimate app as malware. However, that’s just a single app among the almost 1500 tested. As you’d expect, this protection works away in the background, monitoring continuously for any dangers: you don’t have to remember to run virus scans manually.
The app will scan any Wi-Fi network and tell you if it’s safe. If not – such as open public Wi-Fi – it’ll offer to enable the built-in VPN. Note that if you don’t set your Total Protection subscription to auto renew, you’ll only have 500MB of data per month for VPN use. It’s otherwise unlimited.
You can also keep track of up to 60 items of personal information such as email addresses, bank accounts, social IDs and more, and get alerts if any are ever found in data hacks. (You can enrol just 10 email addresses if you don’t have auto-renewal enabled, though).
Although McAfee can warn Windows users of so-called phishing links, that’s not available in the Android app. There’s also no call blocking, no app-locking or anti-theft features, nor protection against apps using your phone’s camera or microphones to spy on you.
If you are happy to pay for antivirus, McAfee Total Protection Premium (which costs $49.99 / £39.99 for the first year) covers up to 10 devices, including Windows, Mac and iOS as well as Android.
5. Avira Free Security
- Packed with features
- Good malware protection
- Lots of upselling for free users
- Didn’t block 100% of malware
Avira is well known for offering free antivirus and Android users can still benefit from this. In fact, although you’ll have to put up with constant reminders that you’re not paying and therefore missing out on some protections, you do get a lot for free.
When you first install the app you get the option to try out the dark mode and, although it takes you straight to the Profile tap with a large Log In button, you don’t need to create an account to use Avira Security for free.
The Dashboard tab is something of a misnomer as it simply presents a Smart Scan button along with an ever-present option to upgrade to Security Pro and get a week-long trial. It does not, as you might reasonably expect from a dashboard, give you an overview of the current state of protection.
In the Security tab, there’s no antivirus to be found: you’ll see the Anti-Theft options along with Web Protection, which is locked for free users. That’s a blow, as warnings of malicious websites are a valuable feature.
Privacy features are extensive, including call blocking, ID protection, a VPN, Permissions Manager and App Lock (which uses a pattern to prevent access). ID protection lets you check if an email address has been included in any breaches but you can only get continuous monitoring (and alerts) if you create an account – fair enough. Other features such as App Lock are only usable if you create an account, too.
The password manager and microphone protection are reserved for paying users, and the VPN limits you to 100MB per day and prevents you from choosing a location.
In AV-Test’s most recent report, Avira blocked 100% of threats, managing to stop 99.8% of the 3300+ samples used, but did detected 100% of widespread Android malware. When others such as Avast managed 100% in both tests, you’d be forgiven for thinking Avira is best avoided. But these are still great results and far better than running no antivirus at all.
To unlock most features, Security Pro costs $11.99 / £6.99 per year. That’s good value, but to get unlimited VPN use and the password manager requires an Avira Prime Mobile subscription which is $25.99 / £21.49 yearly.
Does Android need antivirus?
Unlike Apple devices, which only allow downloads from the iOS App Store to protect users from bogus apps, Android lets you install APK files (which are apps) from any source once you change a simple setting in your phone’s Settings app. Downloading apps from unknown sources isn’t generally a great idea as they could be infected with viruses and malware.
There is also a less-strict approval process for the Google Play Store than Apple’s App Store, and it’s no secret that apps infected with malware can appear on the Store from time to time.
Phishing emails, dodgy messages and adverts are important to look out for too, but good antivirus software will warn you of these and potentially dangerous websites.
For testing how effective antivirus apps are, which is a specialist and extremely time-consuming process, we use the results from well-know security software test labs AV-Test and AV-Comparatives. They constantly test these apps for protection, performance and usability.
In addition to virus protection, these Android apps might have additional features such as anti-theft to allow you to lock and/or wipe data from a stolen handset, or even take photos or audio recordings of the thieves.
Another useful feature commonly found in security apps for Android is call blocking. If your phone is constantly plagued by nuisance calls or spam texts, you might be able to block the callers so that they don’t interrupt your day.
Some apps include schedulers in their call-blocking facilities, so you can divert all calls from the office to voicemail at evenings and weekends, for example.
Some suites also include app managers that allow you to password protect access to specific apps. This can be invaluable for parents who routinely hand their phone over to children to play games and worry that they might stumble onto something they shouldn’t, or run up horrendous bills by purchasing apps. But this also prevents anyone from picking up your phone (even if it’s not locked) and using any app they like.
So in answer to the question above, yes, you do need an antivirus app on an Android phone. We also have a more detailed analysis on the do you need antivirus on Android? debate if you want even more information.
As you can already see from the apps listed above, there’s plenty of choice when it comes to antivirus apps on Android. Obviously, it’s important to make sure you’re getting an app you trust, because tests carried out by AV-Comparatives found that less than a third of all Android antivirus apps actually work. The site tested 250 apps and found that only 80 of them managed to detect at least 30% of malicious apps without any false alarms. And antivirus software which doesn’t work properly is of no value.
While an app can provide a good level or protection from malicious software, hackers are often reliant on users to make mistakes or be fooled into installing the malware themselves without realising what they’re doing. With this in mind, here are tips on how to protect yourself online and 8 ways to protect yourself from cybercrime so that you don’t make it easy for those who would seek to do you harm.