Most security stories are inherently bad news — either there's some new way to compromise your system, or some old way that's already compromising it. It's refreshing, then, to learn that in the world of Android security, you're probably in good hands, no matter which of the best Android antivirus apps you have installed.
A new study from AV-TEST confirms that almost 30 leading Android security programs do a perfectly good job of keeping phones and tablets safe.
AV-TEST, a Madgeburg, Germany-based independent testing lab, constantly runs tests on various AV programs to see which ones keep Windows, Mac OS X and Android devices safe. (For the former two, check out our pages on the best antivirus software and the best Mac antivirus software.)
In its September 2016 results for Android programs, a whopping nine programs took home perfect scores, but every single one of the 27 apps tested did at least a passable job screening and preventing infections.
Each program underwent three forms of evaluation: Protection (six points), Usability (six points) and Further Important Security Features (one point). AV-TEST measured Protection on two counts: how well the program blocked known Android malware, and how well it blocked newly discovered Android malware.
Usability measured a program’s intuitiveness and user-friendliness. Features looked for anti-theft measures, call-blocking, message filtering, safe browsing, parental controls, backup and encryption. AV-TEST didn't put too much stock in extra features, though; even if a program had every single one, the most it could earn was one point.
While it would take too long to detail every single program's ranking, the nine that merited perfect scores were AhnLab V3 Mobile Security, Baidu Mobile Security, Bitdefender Mobile Security, Intel McAfee Mobile Security, Kaspersky Internet Security for Android, Qihoo 360 Antivirus, Sophos Mobile Security, Symantec Norton Mobile Security and Tencent WeSecure. Of those, Bitdefender, Sophos and Tencent scored perfect 100 percent ratings in Protection; the rest hovered between 99.7 and 99.9 percent.
On the other end of the spectrum were Alibaba Mobile Security (8.5), NHSC Droid-X 3 (9.5), Webroot SecureAnywhere Mobile (10) and Quick Heal Total Security (10.5) These programs tended to fall down when it came to Protection more than Usability, discovering somewhere between 92 and 97 percent of potential malware. The rest of the programs fell somewhere in the middle, and include well-known manufacturers such as AVG, Avira and Trend Micro.
If you have one of the bottom-rated programs, you may not want to toss your phone into a bonfire to exorcise the malware demons just yet, though. AV-TEST granted a recommendation to any program that earned a score of 8 or above, and every single program tested met that minimum requirement. No program — even a "perfect" one — can protect you from every single potential threat, but a minimum score of 8 suggests that an app is probably ready to defend you against most of what the Internet can throw your way.
Especially since some of these programs are free, there’s no reason why Android users should let their mobile devices go unprotected. Unless, of course, you relish the idea of performing a factory reset and downloading all of your music and movies again.
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Marshall Honorof is a senior editor for Tom's Guide, overseeing the site's coverage of gaming hardware and software. He comes from a science writing background, having studied paleomammalogy, biological anthropology, and the history of science and technology. After hours, you can find him practicing taekwondo or doing deep dives on classic sci-fi.