Kaspersky Lab, a Russian security-software company, has a well-deserved reputation for excellence, thanks to its line of antivirus suites for PCs and Macs. The company recently entered the mobile security arena with Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, an anti-malware app designed for phones and tablets running Google's mobile OS.
The latest version of Kaspersky Internet Security for Android offers excellent malware protection and anti-theft tools for $14.95 per year, but its privacy protection is limited compared to the competition.
Setup and Interface
Kaspersky Internet Security installed quickly on my Huawei Ascend Mate 2, downloading via Google Play in less than three seconds over my home Wi-Fi network running at 58.2 Mbps. After the app installed, it prompted me to create a Kaspersky account.
While I appreciate that Kaspersky let me create an account within the app itself, instead of forcing me to open a separate browser tab, I still needed to click on an email activation link to complete the setup process, which proved slightly annoying.
The top three-fourths of the home screen are taken up by a large shield icon that displays both your device's safety status and the completion percentage of running scans. The buttons for Scan, Update and Browser are located at the bottom of the screen.
You can access the five remaining buttons — Privacy Protection, Call and Text Filter, Anti-Theft, Settings and Help — by swiping up from the bottom of the screen. While this approach is intuitive, the screen real estate would have been better used by shrinking the status icon at the top of the screen and making the five hidden buttons accessible at all times.
Tapping on each button either launches a corresponding utility (Scan, Update and Browser) or opens a submenu with additional options and tools (Privacy Protection, Call and Text Filter, Settings, and Help). Tapping on the Anti-Theft button opens the Web Console, from which you can lock, locate or manage your device.
In the Settings menu, you can adjust the settings for each of the utilities, as well as toggle push notifications, sound alerts and informational messages. You can also enable Kaspersky's Android home screen widget, change your PIN and uninstall the app.
Finally, a tab at the top right corner of the home screen opens the app's status display, which lets you see the number of days since the last scan was run, whether the antivirus database is up to date and the number of days remaining in your premium subscription.
Detection and Performance
Kaspersky offers robust real-time and manual detection tools. You can perform a quick scan that looks only at installed apps, a full scan that sweeps your entire device, or a custom scan that targets specific folders on the device or SD card. You can also schedule daily or weekly scans and enable additional scanning using the Kaspersky Security Network cloud service.
In addition, Kaspersky automatically scans newly installed apps and monitors file activity in the background for suspicious behavior. The app's Web-protection tool also scans websites before they are opened and blocks access to dangerous or fraudulent pages.
Kaspersky provides unbeatable malware protection. According to the independent AV-TEST lab's November 2014 malware-detection tests, the app detected 100 percent of 2,928 malware samples.
That beats the industry average of 97.6 percent, as well as four of the six other Android antivirus apps we're currently reviewing: AVG Antivirus Free (95.0 percent), Avast Mobile Security (99.9 percent), McAfee Mobile Security (99.5 percent) and Norton Mobile Security (99.7 percent). Only Bitdefender Mobile Security also achieved a perfect detection rate. (AV-TEST did not evaluate Lookout Mobile Security in its latest round.)
To measure Kaspersky's impact on system performance, I ran the Geekbench 3 Android benchmark on my Huawei Ascend Mate 2 running Android 4.3. Before I installed the app, the phone notched a score of 1,519. After installation, the Ascend Mate 2 achieved a score of 1,507. When I ran a full scan with Kaspersky at the same time, the score fell to 1,464.
This was faster than the full-scan scores of AVG AntiVirus Pro (1,415), McAfee Mobile Security (1,455), Norton Mobile Security (1,456) and Avast Mobile Security (1,460), but behind those of Lookout Security and Antivirus (1,467) and Bitdefender Mobile Security (1,496). Nevertheless, these scores are similar enough that the average user won't notice any difference in performance.
Anti-Theft and Data Protection
If your mobile device is lost or stolen, Kaspersky lets you activate a number of anti-theft functions via SMS commands. You can lock your device, locate it via GPS, wipe its data, reset it to factory settings, hide its contact information, or cause it to emit a loud alarm sound (even when the ringer is muted) by sending a text message with a specific command such as "find" or "wipe" followed by your PIN.
Kaspersky prompts you to create your PIN when you first access the app's anti-theft or privacy protection features. The numeric code, which must be between 4 and 16 numbers, is not saved locally; if you forget your PIN, you can recover it by logging into the Web console at center.kaspersky.com.
You can also use the Web console to transmit commands to your device and, through a "mugshot" function, surreptitiously take a picture with the front-facing camera and then lock the device. Captured photos appear at the bottom of the page.
My Huawei Ascend Mate 2 responded quickly to most Web-based commands. When I clicked on the "locate" button the phone locked immediately, and the Google-powered map displayed the phone's position with pinpoint accuracy. The only problem I encountered was with the "mugshot" function, which captured completely dark pictures even when I held the camera directly in front of my face.
The Kaspersky app also sports a "SIM Watch" function that automatically locks the device if the SIM card is changed. You can set the app to text or email you the phone's new number and its current location.
Unfortunately, Kaspersky's privacy-protection features are rudimentary compared with its competitors. Tapping on the Privacy Protection button simply hides your contacts, call history and text messages. (You can remotely obscure this information by sending the "hide" command to your phone via SMS.) A call and text filter blocks messages from numbers you've blacklisted.
However, the suite lacks any kind of control of third-party apps akin to the App Lock features found on Avast, AVG and Bitdefender, which prevent anyone from using designated apps without entering a PIN, or Bitdefender's Privacy Advisor tool, which analyzes the apps' permissions and informs you which represent the greatest threats to your privacy. Given the large risk posed by malicious apps, I would have expected a similar feature from Kaspersky.
On the positive side, the suite offers excellent Web protection. Tapping on the Browser button launches your preferred browser (such as Chrome) with browser protection enabled, which checks websites against the Kaspersky Security Network database before loading the page, and blocks access to sites that are malicious or fraudulent. While somewhat cumbersome, it at least lets you choose which browser you'd like to use. The Web-protection tool also checks links in incoming text messages for phishing links.
From the Kaspersky Web console, you can manage the Kaspersky subscriptions across all your devices (PC, Mac and Android). Registered devices are displayed in the center of the home page, along with buttons to lock, locate or manage each device, as well as install additional Kaspersky products.
Clicking on the first button takes you to the anti-theft management page, from which you can view that device's protection status, transmit anti-theft commands such as "lock and locate" and "alarm," and restore your secret code. You can also hide personal data on your mobile device by remotely enabling Kaspersky's Privacy Protection tool.
In the center of the screen, the Web console displays a log of recent anti-theft commands. If you send a "lock and locate" command to your phone, for instance, the console provides the time at which the command was sent, your phone's location in GPS current coordinates, and its position on Google Maps. Pictures taken with the "mugshot" function are similarly displayed.
Premium vs. Lite
The premium version of Kaspersky Internet Security for Android ranges from $14.95 per year for one device to $24.95 per year for three devices, and can be unlocked by downloading the app via Google Play and entering a license key in the Premium Features tab. The free version includes the app's full anti-malware capability, call and text filter, and remote anti-theft features, but lacks the full version's privacy-protection and Web-protection tools. You can access all of the features in a free 30-day trial.
Kaspersky Internet Security for Android is a solid choice for protecting your phone or tablet. It provides unbeatable malware-protection and helpful anti-theft tools for $14.95 per year — a price made all the more attractive given that the premium version of Norton Mobile Security costs twice as much, but offers fewer features.
The app has its shortcomings, however. The user interface feels half-baked, with most of the home screen dominated by a useless status indicator and half of the buttons crammed in at the bottom of the screen. More importantly, the suite lacks sophisticated privacy-protection tools such as an app locker or app advisor, both of which can be found in Bitdefender Mobile Security and Avast Mobile Security.
Overall, I prefer Avast for its top-notch malware protection, unparalleled customization and huge array of anti-theft and privacy-protection features. Nevertheless, Kaspersky Internet Security for Android is a fine choice if you're looking to protect your mobile device. It boasts top-notch malware protection at a reasonable price, and offers excellent anti-theft tools to boot.
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