Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus 1.2.3 (for Android) review

Bitdefender takes a low-impact approach to security that manages to keep your device secure without getting in your way, and brings a slew of strong anti-theft features to the table making it our Editors' Choice for Android security apps
Photo of Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antivirus 1.2.3 (for Android)

Bitdefender has consistently scored well at both PCMag and independent testing labs with its desktop products, making it a major name in the AV space. On Android, Bitdefender offers several different apps to secure your phone at different price points (more on this later), but Bitdefender’s Mobile Security & Antivirus for Android (14 day free trial, $9.99/year) brings together top-rated anti-malware tools and robust anti-theft capabilities into a single app.

Remarkably lightweight, Bitdefender condenses all of its tools into a single screen. The top is dominated with your current threat level, indicating what actions the app thinks you need to stay safe. The bottom portion lists the available tools: Malware scanner, Application Audit, Web Security, Anti-Theft, and Event Viewer.

Don’t be fooled by its feather-light appearance: Bitdefender is a solid security suite that will keep your Android device clean and secure with strong anti-malware protection with unique anti-theft tools.

Anti-Malware and Threat Detection
Most users will probably come to Bitdefender looking for malware protection, especially given the company’s strong pedigree in the desktop space. They won’t be disappointed: AV-Test March 2013 report said that Bitdefender detected 100 percent of malware in their tests.

That almost seems surprising because Bitdefender’s on-demand scanning is so fast that I wasn’t entirely sure it was doing anything at all. The developer explained that during a scan, Bitdefender extracts information from only the files that could harm your device—apps, apks, and others—and then performs the analysis on the cloud. It also scans each app as it’s downloaded or updated, ensuring that your device is always protected. It also rescans your device when it’s connected to a computer. This is all part the developer’s stated goal of building a “nimble” app that focuses on actual threats while impacting you, the user, as little as possible.

 With twelve other apps running in the background, Bitdefender took an average of only 10.3 seconds to perform a system scan on a Samsung Galaxy Note II . That’s much faster than the other security apps I’ve reviewed.

Likewise, rebooting the phone with Bitdefender installed took an average of only 25.1 seconds, about as long as it takes to reboot a Note II with other security software running.

With such a low scan time, it was difficult to determine the impact a scan makes on the device. I saw only one slight stutter when playing Minecraft during a scan. With such a fast scan, and no option to even run a scheduled scan, I can safely say that the app has very little impact on the user.

App Removal and Real-Time Protection
As nearly all other Android security apps, Bitdefender automatically scans any new apps loaded onto the device. When loading a suspicious penetration testing app, I noticed that it took two seconds before Bitdefender’s warning appeared on the screen. Be careful not to move too fast, or you might launch a dangerous app.

Other apps require you to run a system scan before generating an alert on the security app’s main page. However, Bitdefender immediately altered its main page to warn me of the suspicious app before I performed a system scan. Once a threat is identified, Bitdefender makes it easy to uninstall the offending app.

One note: Bitdefender isn’t big on providing information about threats. It simply flagged my penetration testing app as malware—which, strictly speaking, it isn’t—and dogged me to remove it. If you want to know exactly why your security app is worried, you’re better off with TrustGo.

Application Audit
Many security apps give you a tool for quickly looking over your apps’ permissions, and Bitdefender answers with Application Audit. This simple tool sorts apps by those that can access the internet, potentially cost you money (in this case, mostly data and messaging fees), or access private information like contacts and account details. Tapping on an app will take you the system settings page where you can uninstall the app.

Weirdly, the Application Audit does not include information about potential threats. For instance, after the app had already identified my penetration testing app as suspicious, it was listed right along with the other apps in the audit.

Web Security
More and more people are interacting with the Internet through their mobile devices instead of desktop computers, prompting most security companies to include a secure browsing  option in their app. Bitdefender says it defends against phishing, fraud, and other malicious sites, but only supports the default Android browser.

Activating Web security had little effect on load times. Using the default Android browser on a Samsung Galaxy Note II, the Acid 3 test page loaded to 100 in an average of 4.1 seconds.

My complaint with most apps’ approach to Web security is the same: that they don’t support enough browsers. While some apps, like TrustGo, can boast three supported browsers, most stick to only supporting the stock Android browser. I’d like, at the very least, to see Chrome more widely supported. These are, after all, Android devices.

One thing I really liked about Bitdefender is that it didn’t force me to create a new account to use their anti-theft services. Instead, I used my Google credentials when setting up the app and the same ones when I logged into the company’s web portal. Because this is Android and I use the Chrome browser, I never had to enter a password.

To my mind, anti-theft is the most important part of a security app. While Android malware is a growing threat, it’s not nearly as widespread as PC malware. Simple theft and direct attacks on a device is the biggest threat to users today.

With that in mind, I was disappointed that Bitdefender did not include a spy camera option to surreptitiously snap photos from the device’s front facing camera. Such a feature empowers the user, and makes it possible to press charges against a thief or recognize a good Samaritan trying to reconnect you with your device. TrustGo and Kaspersky Mobile Security both have this feature.

Instead, Bitdefender offers device location, remotely triggered alarm, remote lock, remote wipe, and messaging options. The location service worked fine, displaying my device on a Google Maps map within a reasonable margin of error. The alarm was activated quickly and though quite annoying (my colleague described it as “like dubstep”), it’s not as loud as TrustGo’s offering. It can also be dismissed by tapping a dialog box. This would definitely scare and annoy a thief, but it’s probably better for locating a lost device.

Bitdefender also keeps an eye on your SIM card, which is the first thing a thief will attack. Once you’ve selected a trusted phone number for SMS commands (more on this later), Bitdefender will send a warning SMS to your trusted number if the SIM card is replaced. It will not send the warning if the SIM is simply removed, and the app only communicates this information through SMS. It does not automatically lock the device like Trend Micro mobile security. Instead, it gives you the information to make your own decision.

Most security apps give you some granularity about what information to remove during a remote wipe, but Bitdefender only provides the nuclear option of factory resetting your device. On the one hand, I like the simplicity of this, but on the other it gives users fewer options about how to handle a loss or theft. It’s all or nothing.

Similarly, its messaging system only creates a dismiss-able dialog on the screen. Other security apps instead roll this in the lockscreen, but I like Bitdefender’s approach better. It gives you a clear progression for a lost device disaster: locate/alarm, message, lock, wipe.

This progression is actually pretty important, because instead of using a custom lockscreen Bitdefender uses the Android lockscreen. When you remotely lock your phone, you create a new passcode (minimum four digits) which can deactivate the lockscreen. The big advantage of this is that completely block whoever has your device from using it—even if they know your code. However, you also lose the ability to communicate with them.

Security app lockscreens are not created equal. When locked remotely, TrustGo provides more information (as well as passcode recovery) from their lockscreen but a thief can still launch apps, view running apps, and access the notification center. Trend Micro’s lockscreen can be remotely dismissed, but it has many of the same issues as TrustGo.

Bitdefender’s anti-theft is certainly more draconian than some of the other security apps, but with that comes greater confidence in securing your device remotely.

Remote SMS Controls
Bitdefender distinguishes itself from other apps like TrustGo and Trend Micro by letting you trigger anti-theft features via SMS messages. These messages appear neither in your message history nor in the notification center; they have to be sent in a special format: bd-(your security code) (command). Note that you have to set a trusted phone number in the Bitdefender app before you can use this feature.

I found six commands available on my Samsung Galaxy S III . The first one you’re likely to need is “help,” which returns a list of available commands. Four of the commands (locate, lock, wipe, scream) duplicate the features from the web portal, but notably do not require a WiFi connection to work. Should your lost device be away from WiFi networks but able to reach cellular data, you can still take control.

The last, and most interesting feature, is “callme.” Once received, your device will automatically call you back with the speaker on. This could, theoretically, let you listen to what’s going on around your phone or let you shout until someone finds your missing phone. The downside of this feature is that whoever has your device will be able to see and end the call.

If your device is using Android 4.1 or lower, you can access another SMS command “answer.” According to the app, the command tells your lost phone to automatically answer the next call it receives from your trusted number. Later versions of the Android OS blocked this feature, but the callme command works just as well. The help command will skip over this option if your Android device does not support it.

Altogether, I was very impressed with the SMS commands. I believe they’re a valuable tool, and extend the anti-theft features of the app past WiFi coverage.

Which Bitdefender is Which?
Bitdefender, like many other security companies, has adopted a multi-tiered approach to providing security which involves several different apps at different price points. The goal, as for all the companies trying this, is to engage different users at different levels instead of just selling one product.

All of Bitdefender’s apps are free to download. This review is focused solely on the Mobile Security and Antivirus suite, which is free for 14 days, and costs $9.95 a year after that. Trend Micro costs $29.99 a year and Kaspersky mobile security is $14.95. TrustGo is completely free.

Bitdefender also offers a stand-alone malware scanner for free in the Google Play store. It’s Power Tune Up app is also free, and claims to optimize battery life and clean up memory. Safebox provides Android users with 2GB of free storage through Bitdefender. The company also offers a Parental Control app for free or for a premium subscription of $29.95 per year. Their Anti-Theft app costs $3.95 a year after a 30 day free trial.

A Word on Design
At first blush, Bitdefender really impressed me with its simple design. However, it started to bother me how each section is relatively empty. If I could say one thing to the developers on this point, it would be: collapsible drawers.

I was impressed by Bitdefender’s low impact on the user and the device, as well as the service’s well designed app and Web portal. While its malware detection is not at the top of the list (for that, look to TrustGo), it does offer above average protection at a price that is a little over half of what the next cheapest competitor offers.

While I was disappointed that Bitdefender did not include a spy camera option, I was impressed with the app’s other anti-theft features—particularly the lockscreen, which prevented all interaction with the device. The SMS controls for anti-theft features are also extremely useful, and could be critical in keeping your data secure. While I’d like to have more options for SIM alerts, Bitdefender’s current approach still provides critical information.

However, users who prefer to have total control over their apps will probably not like Bitdefender. The app’s “nimble” approach offers very few settings, despite the number of security tools available. Other security apps, albeit more expensive ones like Trend Micro, include call blocking and cloud backup.

Bitdefender is a thoughtfully produced app, designed to keep out of your way as much as possible but work exactly how it needs to, when it needs to. It has a good approach to malware protection, eschewing updates and scheduled scans in favor of smart, unobtrusive and continuous protection. The anti-theft features are very robust, and flexible enough to be used however you see fit, particularly the SMS commands. Security apps are a very competitive space, but Bitdefender offers security and peace of mind, all while remaining unobtrusive, and at a price that won’t crunch your wallet. That’s why it’s taking our Editors’ Choice for Android security apps. 

Type Personal

Bitdefender takes a low-impact approach to security that manages to keep your device secure without getting in your way, and brings a slew of strong anti-theft features to the table making it our Editors' Choice for Android security apps
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc