In 2021, we also evaluated how well some security apps protect against stalkerware on Android. This type of software operates covertly, enabling unauthorized individuals to spy on device owners without their knowledge or consent. While stalkerware and legitimate software (such as parental controls) have blurred lines between them, Google Play has implemented stricter policies in recent years to combat this issue. Consequently, stalkerware is typically installed through side-loading since it is not available on the Play Store.
Mobile security products are designed primarily to safeguard mobile users and their devices from threats such as malicious apps, phishing URLs, fraudulent emails, and other harmful links. Recent versions of Android come equipped with fundamental security features. For example, Play Protect, Google’s built-in malware scanner, scans apps during installation from Google Play or third-party sources and performs regular device checks for threats. Safe Browsing API helps protect against malware and phishing links when browsing the web using Google Chrome. Anti-theft functions, such as lock, locate, alarm, and wipe, are available through Google’s Find My Device, enabling users to find lost or stolen phones and prevent access to personal data stored on them. The latest Android versions also provide several app auditing features that enable users to review and modify privacy settings (such as dangerous/special permissions and notifications) and usage (such as mobile data, battery consumption, and storage space) of individual apps.
In the following pages, we explore the privacy and security features and limitations of Google Android. It is important to note that not all of Google’s security features are available to all users due to restrictions on certain Android versions, Android-based operating systems, and geographical locations. We also discuss the current risks that smartphone users face and provide recommendations for enhancing protection. Additionally, we provide a brief overview of common security features in Android security apps. The primary section of this report contains the participating security products, along with the results of malware protection tests, battery drain tests, and in-depth product reviews.
For each product’s anti-theft component, we briefly comment on each function and use symbols in the table to indicate its performance in our tests.