Kaspersky Labs has made a name for themselves not only for supplying consumer-grade antivirus and security software, but for breaking huge security stories like Red October and Stuxnet. With Kaspersky Mobile Security ($14.99, free “lite” version), the company brings a full-featured security suite to Android that provides all-around protection in an unobtrusive package with a strong pedigree.
The first time you fire up Kaspersky Mobile Security, the app walks you through a brief set-up interrupted only by an enormous (and unsurprising) EULA. The app will confirm that it was legitimately purchased, walk you through the creation of a Kaspersky account to access the online features, and prompt you to create a 4-16 digit numeric passcode.
This is an unfortunate necessity, but you’ll need some way of proving that you’re the authorized user of the device. Otherwise a thief could simply deactivate Kaspersky’s host of features. Unfortunately, most users will probably create a very short passcode, which could be easily compromised. I highly recommend using a code you’ll remember, but one that is fairly long. In my tests, I used a password manager to store and generate a 12-digit passcode.
Don’t worry if you forget your passcode. You can generate a recovery passcode from Kaspersky’s anti-theft webportal.
The app’s interface is straightforward, with large buttons that open at a tap to reveal controls. These include Anti-Virus, Privacy Protection, Anti-Theft, Call&SMS Filter, Web Protection, and Additional, which functions as a settings menu. Each of the buttons displays whether or not that aspect of the app is running, giving users a quick overview of their protection.
Readers should note that while I installed Mobile Security just fine on the Samsung Galaxy S III, the Samsung Galaxy Note II, and the Nexus 7, Kaspersky sells a (pricier, at $19.95) “Tablet Edition.” According to the developers, the tablet edition is designed to take full advantage of the increased screen real estate with improved graphics, and does not have the SMS or phone filtering options. Because you can install the app as many times as you like, I would not recommend buying the Tablet Edition; instead secure all your Android devices with the plain ol’ Mobile Security version.
Malware Protection and Performance
The greatest sin of security software is that it sometimes forces users to choose between performance and protection. On a mobile platform, that’s not really an option since these devices tend to be used for short bursts but need to perform well each time.
When it came to boot times, my Samsung Galaxy S III took an average of 30.73 seconds to boot up with Kaspersky Mobile Security installed. That’s only 2.17 seconds longer than normal; minimal interference.
Scans are another story, but even here Kaspersky manages to keep interruptions to a minimum. With a scan running in the background, I did experience some subtle slowdown with applications on the Galaxy S III. These were far more noticeable when running Minecraft—Pocket Edition. Thankfully, a full scan of the phone took only about twenty minutes, meaning at its most disruptive Kaspersky managed to keep the interruptions to a minimum. The app will also allow you to select memory, SD card, or specific folder scans, putting fine-grain scan control in your hands.
In the version I reviewed, I noticed some issues with the notification center. Occasionally, it would not advance as the scan moved forward—a minor, but irritating issue. Distressingly, tapping the notification would actually pull the app’s scan progress window to the front, making it difficult to return to what I was doing. Kaspersky has told me that this issue will be addressed in a future update, scheduled for March 18, 2013.
Scheduled malware scans, the bane of the late 1990s computer user, are turned off by default in Kaspersky Mobile Security. Presumably this is to minimize the impact on the user, requiring users to start scans at their convenience or set up their own schedule in the Anti-Virus settings menu. (The app does, however, perform an automatic Anti-Virus definitions update the first time you start up.) In addition to known malware, the app also scans for dangerous adware, auto-dialers, and other intrusive features that might expose your personal information.
Impressively, the app automatically scans and audits every downloaded app by default through its “Kaspersky Security Cloud Network,” further minimizing the chances of infection. This is a fairly unobtrusive process which you’d likely only notice if the app caught something it didn’t like or if you were paying very close attention to your notifications. Kaspersky does not, however, scan every single file you download. Email attachment and files obtained from file-hosting services will go unobserved by Kaspersky until you perform you next scan.
The suite also provides some protection against malicious websites, but only in the default Android browser. While it was irritating to have to use the default browser instead of Chrome or something speedier, I didn’t observe any increase in website loading time while using Kaspersky.
For the time being, PC Magazine relies on third-party testing to gauge the quality of malware protection. In this area, Kaspersky Mobile Security performs among the best, taking an A ranking from AV-Test (March 2012, previous version). In their tests, AV-Comparatives found (Sept 2012, previous version) that Kaspersky performed in the top tier of apps at discovering malware, but only detected a fraction of adware. However, I did notice that Kaspersky generated a false-positive result on a non-malicious pentesting app. While it was easily dismissed, there was no way to white-list the app and it prolonged every scan I performed.
While malware and identity theft is a major concern, theft is probably the most concern for mobile users. On this front, Kaspersky includes lock, remote wipe, location detection, and (most notably) mugshot capabilities. This last option subtly snaps pictures from the device’s front-facing camera and uploads them to the Kaspersky security web portal.
All of the anti-theft options are administered through the Kaspersky web interface, or by sending special SMS messages along with your passcode to your phone. In my tests, I found that commands sent from the web interface were quickly pushed to the device, and location information as well as mug shot photos were retrieved speedily. Commands sent over SMS took longer, but worked fine.
Users can also perform a remote wipe or full reset of their phone either via text command or through the web portal. In my tests, I was surprised to find that personal data wipe was executed entirely behind the scenes. If I hadn’t gone looking for account information, I wouldn’t have noticed it had even happened. The full wipe took significantly longer to start, but it did wipe all of my data from the device. In their testing, AV-Comparatives notes that Kaspersky Mobile Security left data on a removable SD card alone by default. However, the developers have since changed the app and in my tests the SD card was wiped completely.
Kaspersky Mobile Security also provides a warning should a thief replace your device’s SIM card. Once enabled, you can enter a phone number and email address to which Kaspersky will send alerts should your SIM card be removed. You can also set the app to automatically lock the phone as well. Users should note that your device will not send notifications until the SIM card is replaced. However, it will automatically lock the phone as soon as the card is removed.
A Private Issue
Kaspersky Mobile Security provides several unique privacy controls. In the “Privacy Protection” pane you create list of contacts whose information will remain hidden on your phone. This includes their contact card, as well as SMS and call history. While I am sure there are some super-spies out there who could make use of this feature, the only practical application I could come up with was an unfaithful spouse hiding an affair.
More useful is the SMS and call screening function. Once activated, you create a block list or allowed list of contacts. Depending on the mode you select, Kaspersky Mobile Security will block calls from the block list, or only allow calls from the allowed list. Once enabled, the app provides total protection: You won’t see or hear the messages. The person trying to call you will hear one ring and then silence. Should a blocked contact send you a SMS message, it will appear to send normally from their phone but not appear at all on yours.
While this “cone of silence” approach is useful, it lacks fine-grain controls. Kaspersky should have included the option to block calls or messages, but still receive notifications of the blocked correspondence. Kaspersky does include a log of the 50 most recent blocked SMS and calls in the Reports section, but because this information could have applications in legal areas, Kaspersky should have provided a tool to export a list of blocked communications.
The Bottom Line
Kaspersky Mobile Security brings many key security features to the Android platform for a reasonable price. The interface is easy to use, most of the app self-explanatory, and it includes features beyond mere anti-malware. What’s more, it carries high rankings from security testing firms.
And while its powerful web interface handles anti-theft options across multiple devices, it can’t push other rules or settings across phones, tablets, and computers from a single interface like McAfee All Access 2013. Without these features, Kaspersky earns four stars but not the Editors’ Choice. However, if you’re just looking for brand-name security to protect your Android devices, for a reasonable price, Kaspersky Mobile Security is an excellent choice.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc