Lookout Security & Antivirus: Taking Your Chances

Lookout is a venerable player in the mobile-security world, having gotten its start back in 2006, years before any of the "legacy" antivirus companies jumped into the mobile market. The Lookout Android app alone has more than 100 million installs in Google Play, with an average rating of 4.4 out of 5 stars.

We haven't reviewed Lookout Security & Antivirus, also known as Lookout Personal, for a couple of years. That's because the company doesn't submit its app to AV-TEST, the independent testing agency whose malware tests we rely on. But recently, the app underwent a major overhaul, with a new focus on identity protection, and it presents an interesting new option in the market.

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We really liked what we saw, as Lookout provides an intuitive, uncluttered user experience and has several unique, if somewhat pricey, features. But we really don't know how well it protects against malware, and the two relatively recent lab tests we could find don't look good. For guaranteed malware protection, we recommend Bitdefender Mobile Security.

Costs and What's Covered

Lookout follows the traditional freemium model used by most Android antivirus apps. The free basic plan covers security scanning, find my phone and contact backup. New users will receive a free 30-day trial of the Premium plan. After the trial is up, the Premium plan costs $2.99/month or $29.99/year (about 17 percent off).

The Premium plan offers an extensive feature set with additional security, anti-theft and backup options, plus a report that supplies alerts on current data breaches.

New for this year is the Premium Plus plan, which includes everything in Premium and adds a suite of identity-protection features, as well as $1 million in identity-theft insurance and 24/7 restoration assistance in case of identity theft. Opting for this plan will cost you $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year. We will cover the identity-protection features in the app thoroughly, but the insurance and restoration assistance are the real selling points for this plan.

Malware Protection

While it wasn't the fastest scanner in the bunch, Lookout Security & Antivirus is competitive with other apps, coming in at just a little over 30 seconds for a full scan. Unfortunately, you can't schedule scans, so you need to just conduct a manual scan from time to time. A tap anywhere in the top two-thirds of the main screen takes you to the malware scan.

The Safe Browsing functionality on Lookout successfully picked up several known malicious websites and presented me with the option to either block them or proceed. This is supported by Chrome and stock Android browsers from most manufacturers. If your browser is supported, you will see a pop-up at the bottom of the screen when the browser opens saying, "Lookout safe browsing active."

Malware Performance

Lookout no longer submits Security & Antivirus to AV-TEST for evaluation. For the most part, we were not able to directly compare its current performance against the other five antivirus apps we reviewed. The two most recent lab tests we could find do not put Lookout's malware protection in a favorable light.

We received the following statement from Lookout when we asked why the company stopped submitting to AV-TEST:

"Lookout's mission is to protect its tens of millions of individual and enterprise customers around the world from the mobile threats they might encounter in their day-to-day work and personal lives. We have found that many of the malware samples used in benchmarks such as AV-TEST's Android tests have never affected any Lookout user. We welcome the opportunity to engage in independent testing that accurately measures vendor threat-detection precision in real-world scenarios."

We really don't know how well Lookout protects against malware.

Lookout did submit Security & Antivirus for AV-TEST's evaluation for most of 2013, and the program's malware-detection rate varied between a respectable 97.8 percent and a good 99.4 percent. At the time, such scores were well above the average.

Lookout has submitted Security & Antivirus to AV-TEST only once since then, in January 2016. The results were not good: Security & Antivirus detected only 85.2 percent of 3,177 "real-time" Android malware samples and 77.3 percent of 3,496 Android malware samples collected in the previous four weeks. Both of those scores were well below the average detection rates of all 27 Android antivirus products tested in that month, which were just under 99 percent for both categories.

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In January 2017, another lab whose results we often use, AV-Comparatives, rated the malware-detection rates of 110 Android antivirus apps downloaded from Google Play — without the cooperation of the antivirus vendors. Lookout Security & Antivirus came out with a 92.2 percent detection rate, behind the scores of four dozen competitors. The other five Android antivirus apps we recently reviewed all got 100 percent.

We dislike that we don't have a wealth of empirical data to use in comparing Lookout's current malware performance to the rest of the field of Android antivirus apps. However, it is worth saying that the company has a solid reputation, with over a decade in the field and years of solid reviews in Google Play.

Fortunately for those who want to see hard data to back up claims of malware-detection performance, the five other Android antivirus apps we reviewed are currently evaluated by AV-TEST. In July 2017, Norton Mobile Security and Bitdefender Mobile Security had a perfect 100/100 percent detection rate, followed by PSafe DFNDR (99.9/99.9 percent), Avast Mobile Security (99.8/99.9 percent) and CM Security Master (99/99.3 percent).

Basic (Free) Security Features and Tools

Find My Phone
Under the free, basic plan, you don't get a lot in the way of anti-theft functionality from Lookout, but you can locate your phone or trigger an alarm using the web portal at personal.lookout.com. There's also one passive feature, Signal Flare, which triggers your device to send its current location to the Lookout site before the device's battery dies.

Contacts Backup
While most Android users likely have their contacts stored in the cloud with Google, some users appreciate having an extra copy safe somewhere. Even with the free version of Lookout, you can back up your contacts, and the data can then be downloaded from Lookout as either a CSV file or vCards. I was able to upload a few hundred contacts in about 6 seconds.

Premium Security Features and Tools

Breach Report
This feature tracks the online apps and services that you use, and will send you a notification if any of them experiences a data breach. Be prepared — if you use many online services, you will likely get alerts the first time you set up this feature, as it will display quite a few years' worth of breaches. My first report alerted me to a report from back in 2011.

The second section of Breach Report is basically a news ticker curated by Lookout of recent breaches. You'll get a brief description of the event, instructions on what to do if you are affected, additional details regarding the event and a link to the original source article.

It's not the sort of thing that I would read every day, but if you look every few days, you'll probably find that something new has popped up; hopefully, you can read it just out of curiosity, and not because your data was part of the breach.

Safe Wi-Fi
One of the most recent additions to the Lookout app, Safe Wi-Fi monitors the Wi-Fi networks that you join.
It initiates a seven-point checklist to establish the safety of each network, and it notifies you if the network fails on any of the metrics. Users are, naturally, given the choice to ignore the recommendations of Safe Wi-Fi and trust the network anyway.

Privacy Advisor
Privacy Advisor provides a breakdown of how many of your apps have access to your personal data. You can tap on any of the categories to see the full list of apps, and tap again to go to a screen for a specific app, with the option to manage its permissions.

Lookout's implementation of this feature suffers from the same problem as most other antivirus apps' privacy-advisor features: It's unaware of which app permissions have and haven't been manually toggled off by users of Android 6.0 Marshmallow and later. However, we give credit to Lookout for at least giving you a direct link to the proper, built-in functionality to switch off any problematic permissions. Not many other Android security apps do that.

Theft Protection
Lookout Premium subscribers get a few more tricks than Android itself offers to save their devices from would-be thieves, although they still won't get one of the most feature-rich anti-theft suites.

Users can remotely lock their devices from personal.lookout.com and place a custom message on the screen. If all else fails, a wipe command can be issued from the web portal.

Lookout's anti-theft features aren't as robust as those of Norton or Bitdefender.

Additionally, you can opt to receive an email with a photo taken from the front-facing camera and the location of the device when a suspicious activity is detected. Users can select from a list of potential suspicious activities: a passcode was entered incorrectly, a SIM card was removed, airplane mode was enabled, the device was turned off or someone tried to uninstall Lookout.

However, Lookout's anti-theft features aren't as robust as those of Norton or Bitdefender, which let you send commands to a lost or stolen phone via SMS messages. Lookout is also behind Avast, which triggers a whole suite of anti-theft functions once a SIM card is removed and can forward calls and texts to another device.

Photo & Call History Backup
Most Android users are presumably leaving their photo storage up to Google, particularly with the
unlimited storage available in Google Photos, but an extra backup isn't going to hurt. I backed up a total of 454 photos to Lookout, with the option to download them as zipped JPEG files in their native resolution. Regular users get 1.5GB of storage space for their photos; T-Mobile Jump subscribers get unlimited storage.

Lookout also backed up the metadata of my last 500 calls — number dialed and date, time and duration of call — without issue and allowed me to download the information as a CSV file.

Premium Plus Security Features and Tools

Identity Restoration & Insurance
This is the piece that makes the Premium Plus plan so much more expensive than other Lookout options, but also makes it competitive with other identity-protection packages. It carries access to 24/7 identity-restoration assistance, lost-wallet recovery, and $1 million in identity-theft insurance to cover damages and legal fees.

This is all handled by a third-party vendor that Lookout wouldn't name for us, but its on-site legal documentation indicates that the provider is Interstate Fire and Casualty Co. of Chicago, a subsidiary of the German financial-services giant Allianz.

Naturally, these are pressing matters when you need them, so when viewing the Insurance tab, you are just two taps away from being on the phone with an expert to assist you.

Identity Theft Protection
While the restoration and insurance services are the driving force behind the Premium Plus pricing, a number of additional protections come with this top tier. They are all geared toward monitoring your information online in order to keep you safe; all naturally require that you trust Lookout with your information, as Lookout needs your information in order to ensure that no one else has it.

Social Media Watch lets you connect your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram accounts to Lookout. The app will report back if your private information shows up online or if you are tagged in potentially offensive posts.

As I quickly discovered, the threshold for "potentially offensive" is pretty low. My reference to a weed that had suddenly bloomed in my garden set off the New Alerts in the Identity Protection section of the app. For those who appreciate vigilant monitoring of social media, nothing will get past this tool, but there's no way to adjust the settings to make it less sensitive.

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Turning to more serious concerns, Cyber Watch and SSN Watch both monitor the internet for your sensitive personal information. During setup, you enter any information that you would like to have monitored, and you will be notified if Lookout's crawlers find any of your information online.

You can enter as much or as little information as you would like to track, including email addresses, phone numbers, driver's license numbers, medical ID numbers, passport numbers and Social Security numbers. I entered some of my personal information into the app, and I can say only that none of it was found during my time reviewing Lookout Security & Antivirus.

System Impact

To evaluate the impact of running Lookout Security & Antivirus, I ran multiple tests using the Geekbench 4 Android benchmarking tool on my Samsung Galaxy S8 running Android 7.0 Nougat. Following installation of the app, the phone's performance scored 1.38 percent lower than its baseline average on the Geekbench 4 test. During a full scan, it scored 2.01 percent below its baseline performance.

These results put Lookout Security & Antivirus in third place among six for performance impact with the app installed, and in second place for performance during a malware scan. You wouldn't notice either of those slowdowns.

Setup and Support

Setup for Lookout was quick and painless, taking about 5 minutes from installation to completion of all the settings.

The app does a good job of guiding you through the permissions that need to be granted to get all of the app's features working property. A couple features that needed to be turned on in the phone's Settings were not part of the guided process, but Lookout simply doesn't have a huge number of features that would make finding everything untenable.

Lookout's user interface is an example of a minimal design done well.

Another nice touch is that the initial installation scan starts in the background while you are completing some of the other steps, so by the time you wrap up your part of the process, the scan is nearly complete.

Support with Lookout consists mainly of a series of articles and FAQs accessed in the Help menu of the app. If you have a problem that none of the existing material addresses, you can click a link at the bottom of every article that says, "Have a question? Submit a request." This takes you to a fairly thorough form. Submit that, and Lookout staff will get back to you.

Interface

Lookout prides itself on being mobile-first and ensuring that its software is intuitive, and that certainly shows in this app. This program's user interface is an example of a minimal design done well. The home screen provides an easily glanceable view of any notable concerns, and a slide-over menu on the left takes you to the four major areas covered by the app, each of which is split into at most four tabs.

While the various screens of the app ultimately present a great deal of information, keeping each section limited to just two to four subsections helps keep the user from feeling lost or confused.

Lookout has adhered well to Google's Material Design specifications with this app, crafting something that anyone who has spent time with Android should feel immediately comfortable using.

Bottom Line

Lookout has perhaps the best-looking, and easily the most intuitive Android antivirus app on the market. However, the free version of the Lookout Security & Antivirus is missing a few crucial pieces, such as protection while surfing the web. That makes me hesitate to recommend it. Meanwhile, the step up in cost to the Premium plan is considerable, at $29.99 per year.

The identity insurance and protection offered in the $99.99-per-year Premium Plus plan are unique in the Android antivirus world at the moment. If you are already in the market for this kind of service, you will be getting an excellent antivirus app essentially for free.

That's probably not enough of a market for Lookout, though. I hope to see the company either add a couple of more features to the free plan or bring down the pricing on the Premium tier to get more in line with the rest of the market.

The Lookout Security & Antivirus app is a truly a pleasure to use. It's just that this app's expense is hard to reconcile when, for literally half the price, Bitdefender Mobile Security offers unsurpassed malware protection and a serviceable user interface and design.

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