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Do you need Antivirus for Android?

Thinking about investing in an antivirus package for your Android but not sure if you actually need one or which to pick? Then you’re in the right place as we’ve created this handy guide detailing answers to both questions.

Do you need anti-virus on Android?

Android devices are an inviting target for malware developers. Google has reinforced Android’s built-in security with every release of the world’s most popular mobile OS, but there’s still a market for third-party antivirus software as legitimate packages can help protect your device.

However, please do not just install random “antivirus” apps from the Play Store. In April 2022, CheckPoint researchers found a clutch of “antivirus” apps in the Google Play that were in case disguised malware: Trojan horses designed to steal banking information.

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It’s good security sense to only use reputable app stores and avoid sideloading (manually downloading and installing) APK files from other sites unless you’re really sure of what you’re doing.

However threats can and do appear on Google Play. With an estimated 3,739 new apps uploaded every day, malware does periodically sneak through. These Trojan horses look desirable, but can steal your data, riddle your device with adverts, or otherwise co-opt your phone for their own purposes.

Only installing reputable apps is a good bet, but some malicious apps rack up hundreds of thousands of installs, so popularity isn’t any way to judge. So while it’s not necessary to install Android antivirus software, it might be a good idea, particularly if you’re prone to trying out lots of random apps.

Choosing the best Android antivirus

There are lots of antivirus apps for Android but not all are created equal. Here’s our guide to telling apart real defenders from dangerous fakes.

Google Play Protect is Android’s built-in malware protection. Third-party tools only ever supplement Play Protect, rather than replacing it.

Play Protect by itself performed worse in recent tests by AV-Test and AV Comparatives than its rivals, protecting against 81.7% of malware in AV Comparatives’ 2021 tests, 80.7% of malware in AV-Test’s real world exposure tests, and 90% of malware in a sample set of recent Android malware. A number of third-party anti-malware tools achieved 100% protection in all of these tests.

Based on data from those testing houses, here are three top third-party antivirus apps for Android. All three got 100% protection scores in all tests by both testing houses, with no false positives.

AVG AntiVirus & Security

AVG Mobile AntiVirus & Security scan result

This is free consumer anti-virus for Android, with optional paid upgrade tiers available for purchase inside the app and elsewhere. AVG is a subsidiary of Avast, and the products use the same detection engine on mobile, as well as on desktop.

Extra features include unsafe network detection, a web shield enabled via your phone’s accessibility settings, PIN-protected access to sensitive apps, and anti-theft. There’s also a “RAM boost” which still inactive background processes to make your phone more responsive and “junk cleaning” tools to delete temporary files and installers, which require extra permissions.

AVG’s default scan detected a threat, both in an installed program and in a downloaded APK. I was also pleased to note that it informed me that USB debugging was enabled. I tested it on a phone I use for app development, but most people don’t need this mode enabled.

You can subscribe to AVG Pro to remove the ads and enabled scheduled scans, and AVG Ultimate to give you all that, plus an AVG Secure VPN subscription. You can also activate the paid-for versions using a code or login from a multi-device AVG subscription. Download AVG AntiVirus & Security from the Google Play store.

Bitdefender Mobile Security

Bitdefender Mobile Security scan result

You get a 14-day free trial of this paid-for consumer antivirus suite, if you don’t already have an active Bitdefender subscription. It opens with a subscription agreement that you have to before you can sign into or create an account, but you’re not agreeing to any payments here, so you can take your time to familiarise yourself with the app and its features.

As well as on-demand and install-time malware scanning for your Android device, features include web protection on supported browsers, scam SMS alerts, Anti-Theft tools, and parental controls in the form of Family Rules. On-demand scans generate a slightly irritating flurry of notifications if you have a lot of apps installed, but Bitdefender is generally easy to live with. I was pleased to find that it detected a potential threat in a downloaded APK, as well as in an installed program.

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The app is included in a Bitdefender Total Security subscription – just enter your existing subscription code. Download Bitdefender Mobile Security from the Google Play store.

G Data Mobile Security

G Data Mobile Security scan result

This is a paid-for consumer antivirus app, available as an up-front Google Play store purchase or as a Light version including a 30-day trial and in-app purchases. You have to have to create an account before you can use the app, but this is a simple matter of entering your name and email address if you’re starting on mobile – a password is automatically generated and emailed to you.

Features include reputation based browser protection against malicious and fraudulent sites, anti-theft and tacking tools, an app permissions checker. In a very cursory test, G Data’s default scan detected a potentially unwanted program when installed, but not as a passive APK sitting in my downloads folder.

The app is included in multi-device G Data Internet Security subscriptions. Download G Data Mobile Security from the Google Play store. If you’d like to try before you buy, G DATA Mobile Security Light includes a 30-day trial.

If you’re like to dig into the data yourself, start with my guide to Understanding antivirus test results, then look at the data on AV-Test and AV Comparatives.

Read our Security Guide for more tips on leading a safer online life.

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