Cell phone security apps are absolutely essential in today's modern world. After all, most smartphone owners are afraid of losing or having their smartphone stolen. Smartphone theft is a reality - after all, in 2014, 2.1 million Americans had their phones stolen. That's a hefty number, but get this: it's actually a decline compared to 2013 when 3.1 million Americans became victim to theft.
And what is to thank for that?
Cybersecurity apps, especially those with kill switches, the ultimate deterrent for thieves. Unfortunately, there are a plethora of cell phone security apps out there in the wilderness, with quite of a few of them being fraudulent. What cell phone security app should you select? What app offers the best coverage for your phone, so you can prevent the worst case scenario?
Inside this guide, you'll find the best mobile security apps for both the iOS and Android phones, complete with the pros and cons for each. Additionally, you'll find a list of cybersecurity myths and cell phone safety tips, so you can prevent any oncoming attack. I'm going to reveal to you the best of the best, so you won't have to scramble around in search for a mobile security app that works for you.
In This Guide
The Best Cell Phone Security App: Our Top Picks
ESET Mobile Security Review
- Malware monitoring is excellent
- Amazing call and SMS filtering
- Many robust features are included in the premium version
- Anti-phishing is not the greatest
- Most features are premium-only
ESET Mobile Security is an amazing choice and for good reason. While the ESET name isn't as popular compared to names like Norton and Webroot, it still manages to secure a large customer base thanks to its excellent protection, despite being a "freemium app" on the Android.
While you'll receive antivirus protection and anti-theft protection (only SMS text commands) with the free version, you'll receive a lot more with the premium version. With the premium version, you'll be able to access the web portal, browse the internet more safely, remotely lock your device if it goes missing, track your missing device online, take photos of the finder, and more.
And that's not all. You'll also be able to access anti-phishing services. Again, it's unfortunate that these features are limited to the premium version, but you'll receive a lot for what you're paying for.
Additionally, the interface is simple and straightforward, without the gaudiness. In other words, it certainly does the job. Not only that, but you should also expect quick customer service replies. Overall, you cannot go wrong with ESET Mobile Security, which, at this moment, is only an Android app.
Pro Tip: As a side note, it is cheaper to purchase a premium subscription directly from either ESET's website or from the Amazon App Store rather than from Google Play. While the prices are technically the same at face value, you'll receive two years of ESET Mobile Security service from Amazon and ESET rather than one year from Google Play.
Lookout Mobile Review
- Simple interface
- Solid malware and anti-theft protection
- Contains $1M Identity Theft Insurance (Premium Plus only)
- Advanced features are locked behind Premium Versions
If you want a strong mobile app and have the money to pay for it, you should certainly opt for the Lookout Mobile Security app, which is available for the Google Android phone and iOS. This antivirus app contains a clean, updated interface. With a quick flick of your finger, you can access the sidebar, which includes your home, security, theft alerts, identity protection, and backup features.
Unfortunately, with the free version, you're limited to just antivirus protection and the location tools, but there are two premium options that you can opt for - do keep in mind that both premium selections are far more expensive compared to the average mobile security app.
The first selection, known as Premium, is a few dollars per month, but for its price, you will be able to take advantage of advanced features like Breach Reports, Privacy Advisor, Safe Browsing, and Theft Alerts. With Privacy Advisor, you'll know what apps will access your personal information, and with Safe Browsing, you'll be alerted if you encounter any malicious sites.
The Premium Plus version (which shows up as an in-app purchase on the Google Play Store), on the other hand, contains Identity Monitoring, Social Media Watch, 24/7 Restoration Assistance and a $1 Million Identity Theft Insurance policy. You know, just in case. However, you're paying around $10 per month for this service.
Overall, the features are incredibly robust, but again, it's on the expensive side. If you can afford it, then Lookout Mobile Security will have your back.
Norton Mobile Security Review
- Top-Tier malware monitoring
- Contains Unique App Advisor for Google Play
- Simple and easy-to-use interface
- Expensive if you have one device
- Drains system resources
- Doesn't contain advanced features that you might find in other apps
Norton Security and Antivirus is what you would call a monster. Not only is it created by one of the biggest names - Symantec - in the antivirus and internet security industry, but it has rightfully earned its place.
Inside the Android and iOS app is a minimalistic interface, featuring just five "tabs": Home, App Security, Online, Device, and Get Norton. While the last tab directs you to the purchase pages of Norton Security Deluxe and Norton Mobile Security for Android and iOS, you can also opt for a free 30-day trial without a credit card commitment.
However, the free version contains features, like call blocking, that may not be locked away in similar mobile security and antivirus apps. For instance, you can receive light privacy reports - you may be notified that one app may be sharing your contact list - but you need the premium version to see which app is taking advantage of your privacy.
Unfortunately, if you want any other fancy features, such as Web Protection for your browsers, then you'll need the premium version. The premium version also includes app advisor for both your apps and apps on the Google Play Store (the feature allows you to scan apps for privacy risks, unusual behavior, intrusive ads, and more).
Overall, Norton Mobile Security, which comes with a price tag of less than $20 per year, is a good deal, especially when compared to expensive Android security apps like Lookout Mobile.
Honorable Mention: mSecure Password Manager
While mSecure Password Manager did not make our list for the top five, it does deserve a mention. Why?
Because the iOS and Android security app is the perfect solution for password woes. mSecure Password Manager will secure your data and passwords behind industry standard AES-256 bit encryption.
Furthermore, you can easily manage your data (i.e. your locker combination or your debit card pin) and passwords with integrated search and collapsible headers.
Additionally, you can sort, filter and group your data so you can organize and find your information with ease. As the cherry on top, you can access your data and passwords from anywhere you'd like thanks to the syncing feature.
Specific to the mobile version, you can use mSecure to create and store the most random and complex passwords for all of your sites. All you need to do is log in with a simple tap, thanks to the built-in browser with auto-fill function.
So if you need a password manager to help you keep your mobile device secure, mSecure Password Manager should be your go-to.
Related: To learn more about password managers, and to see our top picks, check out our buyer's guide to password managers.
Key Considerations of the Mobile Security Apps
There are quite a few factors to consider when determining the best cell phone security apps. Here are just some of the main ones I've taken into account:
Most security apps are essentially free apps unless you want advanced features. Then you would either have to pay a monthly or yearly fee. Thus, pricing is considered to be an important factor.
However, what you receive for the price you pay is also important. For instance, identity theft insurance may be included in the benefits of an app that charges $10 per month.
When it comes to mobile apps, consumers expect the in-app purchase (in this case, the premium features) of the mobile security app to be much more affordable than the full-blown security suites on PC and Mac.
Depending on security software you purchase for your PC or Mac (i.e. the ultimate edition of a security suite), the mobile app may be included in the security package.
What should you expect when it comes to features?
Do you want phone location tools? Parental controls? Anti-theft protection? What is included in the security apps for smartphone and tablets is dependent on what you need.
Most people, for instance, will probably need phone location tools and anti-theft protection. However, if you don't have a child in your home, you probably don't need to worry about parental controls.
How the app performs, and how it affects the performance of your device, is another major factor you should consider before buying.
Are the malware monitoring and scanning features solid? Better yet, does the app drain system resources? Sometimes, performance on your phone may dip, depending on the app you have. Not only that, but your battery may drain faster.
For our results, I analyzed quite a few cell phone security apps, using a combination of user reviews, personal testing, and AV-TEST's reports, which occurs every couple of months.
For every app, I conducted anti-virus scans and browsed through the available features to see what would be best useful for the consumer. Not only that, but I've taken into consideration the pricing of the app, the amount/usefulness of the features, and the system load.
Contenders for this list included Avast Mobile Security, AVG Antivirus, Bitdefender, and more.
Why So Few Mobile Security Apps for iOS?
You probably have been wondering why so few mobile security apps are available for the iOS and are instead restricted to the Android. Well, there is a reason for that.
Not only are your messages and other communication software (like FaceTime) protected with end-to-end encryption, but the entire OS is protected too, meaning that the iOS doesn't need any antivirus software.
That's right; the iOS was created with security as its core. There are already strong antivirus systems, web browsing protection, and more included in the iOS.
However, the security is not fool-proof, especially when the iPhone or iPad is jailbroken, so practice safe habits when browsing the web and downloading any apps.
What about the Windows Phone?
Similar can be said about the Windows Phone - that's why there are no antivirus apps present.
Apparently, and according to a Microsoft representative, the Windows phone operating system does not require software protection. The applications within the OS are in a safe environment, and apps in the Window Store are checked thoroughly before being denied or approved.
Busting Cybersecurity Myths
There are so many myths surrounding cybersecurity these days, especially since 2016, which saw an onslaught of cyber attacks.
So what's the reality behind these myths? Well, I'm here to bust a few for you, beginning with antivirus software.
1. Antivirus software is good enough for me.
No, it is not. Maybe in the '90s, but definitely not now. Plenty of viruses and malware can circumvent antivirus software on both mobile phones and computers, especially new malware. Let's take, for example, the WannaCrypt ransomware attack that infected computers in May 2017. Even with antivirus software in place, this dangerous ransomware (which can infect devices in the same network swiftly) infected more than 230,000 computers in 150 countries.
Fortunately, the spreading was stopped thanks to a kill switch established by a young web security researcher, and patches stopping the virus were implemented. So basically, a lot of new malware and attacks can bypass antivirus systems.
And yes, ransomware can affect mobile devices. In fact, a number of Android phones are vulnerable to such attacks.
2. The apps of trusted brand names are always safe.
When it comes to the App Store and Google Play Store, relying on brand name alone isn't going to help you.
So many developers take a brand name and slap it onto a malicious app, so be sure to read reviews (and not even then, because not all reviews are true), titles, descriptions. If need be, Google the particular app just to be sure.
ProTip: Even the simplest of apps could be infected with malware of some type. Take, for instance, a flashlight app. There are flashlight apps that can infect and control your phone. Doesn't sound pleasant, does it? Fortunately, many phones today are pre-equipped with flashlight functionality.
3. My pin code is fine!
Afraid not, sorry. Even if you have a strong pin number, software can reveal the number, meaning that hackers and thieves can break into your phone with ease.
However, there are many people who choose some painfully obvious pin codes. 1234, in fact, is the most common password. Yup. 1234. What follows are 1111, 0000, 1212, and 7777.
When selecting a PIN number, don't try to think of something that's "easy to remember" but instead a number that will take energy to memorize. Write it down, memorize it, and store your written pin in a safe or a very safe area.
4. My text messages aren't vulnerable.
No. No. A million times, no. In fact, spam messages often invade your texts and can act as a gateway for hackers.
Back in August of 2016, more than 86 percent of Apple iPhones were vulnerable to a security flaw that allowed a hacker to completely take over the phone with a simple text message. Fortunately, the iOS 9.3.5 fixed the vulnerability. Still, you never know what happens in the future, so be aware that text messages are not 100 percent safe.
Cell Phone Security Tips
These tips will hopefully help you prevent you from becoming a victim of theft.
1. Consider cell phone insurance.
Cell phone insurance can often save your bacon. Not only will it protect your phone if it is damaged or lost, but it will help when your phone is stolen. With many insurers, you'll be able to get a replacement device as soon as the next day.
You can learn more about cell phone insurance with our guide, "Is Cell Phone Insurance Worth It?"
2. Lock your phone using a strong pin, password, or pattern.
Earlier, I mentioned that you shouldn't have a painfully obvious password, and I am sticking to that statement. Choose a completely random password that isn't associated with anything in your life.
To set your password or pin number on your Google Android phone, you can head on over to either "Location & Security Settings" or "Lock Screen and Security," depending on the Android version. For Apple iPhones, you merely need to go to the "General" options.
Additionally, for apps that feature two-factor authentication, you should take advantage of said two-factor authentication. This feature means additional layers of protection for you.
Read More: Learn how to create a strong password in our step-by-step guide.
3. Keep your OS and apps updated.
I cannot stress this one enough. Your OS and apps need to be updated, so they can be protected from the latest malware.
4. Log out of sites after you make any purchases.
If you rely on your phone for banking and shopping, you should log out of those sites after you complete your transactions. Additionally, you shouldn't purchase anything online when on public Wi-Fi.
Furthermore, you should not store your usernames and passwords on your phone.
Related: How to Secure Your WiFi
5. Turn off your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth after use.
Not only will turning both off save battery power, but you'll be able to protect yourself from thieves and hackers, who can connect to your device and access files.
As you can tell, mobile security is important. Not only should you try and obtain the best mobile security app possible for your phone, but you should practice safe mobile browsing and purchasing habits. Hopefully, with any of these top apps, you'll be able to decide which app is best for you.
However, if you do come across a virus (and it may be unavoidable), you should take steps to eliminate that virus. We have a guide, "How to Remove a Virus from Your Phone," that will help with that.
If you're looking to complement your phone's mobile security software with a new mobile phone plan, then you should check out our guide to cell phone plans.