Expert advice on why free antivirus software isn’t enough

There are arguments in favor of and against having antivirus software for your phone. We recommend that you do install it. We explore the reasons we make that recommendation, below. We start by considering the number of handsets which are affected. Then we look at free antivirus software and consider its strengths and weaknesses.

Given the free software out there, how many mobile phones are affected ?

A lot. Research shows that more than 17k handsets are infected every day with phone malware and it’s getting worse, fast. Even Google say that around 1% of Android phones are infected. Since there are around 1 billion Android phones on the planet, that means there are around 10 million infected with a virus or Malware at any one time.

What does the research say about virus and malware threats ?

When it comes to peoples beliefs about how safe the internet is on their devices, feelings are split. Recent research suggests that around 50% of people think their desktop PC needs antivirus software

Why would you need AntiVirus Software for your Mobile device ?

There are a number of real threats to your mobile phone which could give you a bad day. As with most things in life, the trend towards digital s part of living every day has increased the level of complexity we face. It’s difficult to keep track of the latest threats from viruses and hackers around the world.

Trend Micro, a provider of antivirus software for mobile phones estimate that unique threats are arising at the incredible rate of 1 per second somewhere in the world. Whether you bump in to them on a website, through the receipt of an email, a file provided you through physical media like a USB drive or over Social Media, sooner or later you and something bad will meet online.

Different malware ‘infects’ different parts of the globe in varying amounts. A virus which is prevalent in Australia is not always equally prevalent everywhere. The reason is probably related to people’s personal networks. In the same way a cold or the ‘flu’ in transferred between people, sharing files, forwarding emails and sharing files over social networks can quickly transmit malware between users in a geography.

In simple terms, your modern smartphone is a computer connected to the internet. On that phone, you store the most intimate details of your life. Connecting something with as much potential for harm as the internet with something as valuable as your personal details presents a risk. Antivirus helps mitigate the risk.

Do you have locks on your doors ? Do you keep an eye out for the people your children are talking to ?

You almost certainly do undertake these basic security measures to protect what’s important to you. It takes time and money to do each. And yet most people question whether these are things they want to do on their computer and mobile phone. This is a strange line or reasoning when both the cost and benefits are conceptually the same.

The difference between paid and free antivirus software for mobile phones : Won’t windows Defender save me ?

Windows Defender is designed for your laptop, not your mobile phone. We’re talking about mobile devices here. However, Windows Defender is a worthwhile parallel. It represents a starting point which is known for most people. Almost everyone has used Windows Defender on their laptop. It’s also instructive when it comes to outlining the comparable performance for free and paid for software.
Windows Defender used to be known as Microsoft Anti-Spy Wear. It sits in the background of your Microsoft Operating Systems and aims to look after you. Specifically, it is intended to remove viruses, spy wear and other malicious software.

In tests, Antivirus software from companies who have designed their businesses around trying to avoid this sort of threat routinely out-performs Windows Defender at identifying viruses and threats.

Antivirus Stats_Free vs Paid_Windows Defender vs Trend Micro

Source :

There is a reason people start this way when they are considering antivirus software for their mobile phone. The PC has taught us to want antivirus software and the natural hangover for that is to the desktop. And remember, this is a mobile device. The fact it’s mobile, alone, brings in a separate set of concerns.

Unlike your desktop computer, your phone will be with you wherever you go. You’ll likely leave it on a table and walk away at some point. You’re likely to have more immediate access available through it to pictures and address book information. And only a small proportion of them are protected by a password.

Mobile Phone Threats and AntiVirus Software


There are threats you might not even know about

The modern online threat landscape for phones has changed substantially from what most people understand to be the case. Increasingly sophisticated software engineers have dedicated themselves to the task of obtaining people’s personal information for a variety of nefarious reasons.

To avoid capture recent innovations include examples where hackers infect only a proportion of people visiting a site or a subset of those downloading a file from a sharing network. Groups are assigned according to time of day that a site was browsed or an IP range. All of this makes it more difficult for antivirus software providers to establish where the problem occurred.

While it is far from definitive, here are a few threats currently around for mobile phones. Some may amaze you with their inventiveness. They should all give us pause and cause to consider antivirus software of some sort.

  • Adware problems :
    Adware is software designed to show you advertisements on your phone. It’s the basic end of the malware market. Because it makes money, it tends to be popular with those who want to put malware on to your phone. It’s intrusive and annoying. Adverts thrown on top of a browser while you’re trying to use it, your screen can be interrupted by pop ups. The best thing that can be said about it is that it doesn’t do some of the more serious things on this list like sell your personal information.
  • Drive by downloads :
    Drive by downloads are a relatively new threat. They fly in the face of historical virus or malware activity. Previously, you had to consciously decide to click a link and accept a file download in order to be infected with malware. With a drive by, Virus / malware files are downloaded to your computer as a result of you browsing a website – whether or not you download anything. The result is obviously a more intrusive and concerning concoction of risk. You may not even know where the file came from or be aware it’s been downloaded.
  • Shape Shifting malware :
    Love it or hate it and most hate it, shape shifting software has the merit of being ingenious. Malware is designed to avoid detection by changing it’s ‘signature’ or ‘fingerprint’ regularly. In one example called ‘Beebone’, that signature was changed up to 19 times a day. Since these characteristics ( the fingerprint, if you will ) are what was used to ascertain that a piece of code was malware or a virus, the ability to spoof alternatives slows the detection and fixing process markedly.
  • The effects of losing your phone ?
    Many people have never taken the time to examine their phone in the way that a thief or hacker could. Are there any pictures on your phone which could help someone with a troubling intent to identify where you live ? Are any pictures compromising or could cause you embarrassment if they were published online ?
  • Fake apps :
    Within some app stores are apps which have been uploaded by malware purveyors. Many of these apps look legitimate but aren’t.
  • Premium SMS apps :
    A subset of ‘fake apps’ which can be found in the same app store at which you will be getting all your legitimate applications. Once installed, this clever app starts sending messages to a premium SMS number. Premium SMS numbers are charged to your bill at the end of the month – which might be the first time you realise you were infected.
  • Botnets :
    Perhaps one of the most personally troubling types of Becoming part of a bot net attach. Unwitting phone users are infected with a virus and then, still without the owner being aware, become a ‘zombie’ in an attack being undertaken by someone else. Your phone is now part of a group of 100 or 1000 phones all constantly sending messages to a server on the internet to bring it down. And you never even knew !

These are just a few of the things that can go wrong with modern malware or viruses. The results of experiencing one in closed quarters can be substantial. Unfortunately, it can also be lucrative for those writing the software.

Some estimate that nearly half a trillion dollars is taken in illicit revenues associated with Malware every year. Once the software is on your phone, it can capture your details, images and contacts and either embarrass you by sending messages to your friends / colleagues / contacts you’d rather it hadn’t or transmit your details to people who can use them.

Summing up – the reasons free isn’t enough

In summary, there are a couple of reasons we believe that free antivirus software isn’t enough. Independent testing of the desktop equivalents show that at least some free antivirus software is less effective than the paid for alternatives.

The incentives which are in place for those writing the malicious code are increasing exponentially. The number of phones in the world is rising every year. Additionally, the value of each phone, as users become to rely on them more and more heavily is increasing too.

The inventiveness of those writing malware shows little sign of abating and the value of them finding a clever way to crack the problem and get in to your phone is actually increasing. Just the list of threats in this article should make your hair stand on end.

One of the options you have to deal with the threat is paid software. We recommend you read the article and consider the value of paid antivirus software.


Neil Aitken

Having worked in 3 countries for 4 telcos on both voice and data products, Neil is in a position to give you the inside track. Get beyond the marketing messages to the best plan for you.