Trend Micro Mobile Security & Antivirus 3.0 (for Android) review

Trend Micro's Mobile Security & Antivirus is a sprawling suite of tools that allow you to administer security on your Android device , but is held back by poorly implemented anti-theft features .
Photo of Trend Micro Mobile Security & Antivirus 3.0 (for Android)

Firing up Trend Micro’s Mobile Security & Antivirus for Android (a free download, with a $29.99 annual subscription fee) I was immediately impressed by the breadth of options and the slick, straightforward interface of the app. On the main page, eye-catching orange letters alert you to potential issues, or happy green text informs you that “everything is OK” (perhaps taking a page from the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’s “Don’t Panic”).

The next page is a breakdown of the app’s security tools, which include anti-malware; privacy protection; safe surfing and parental controls; call and text blocking; and anti-theft. Each of these tools has highly granular options, letting you arrange the level of security that fits how you use your device. It’s a well-designed product backed up byTrend Micro’s robust antivirus systems.

However, anti-theft issues prevented me from really falling in love with this app.

Anti-Malware and Privacy
Most people looking for security apps are probably most concerned about malware detection and removal. In this area, Trend Micro does quite well with a 97% detection rate from the independent lab AV-Test. PC Mag does not perform mobile anti-malware testing in-house.

From the settings menu, you can choose whether you’d like to scan only apps or all files. Triggering a full scan will also look for potential privacy issues, but more on that later. In my testing, I found that with 12 apps running in the background, Trend Micro performed an app-only scan in an average of 15.2 seconds. A scan of all files (1,086) with 12 apps running in the background took only slightly longer, an average of 17.6 seconds. This was faster than Kaspersky Mobile Security(for Android), though results will vary depending on how many apps and files are on your device. As with most other security apps, Trend Micro is designed to impact the user as little as possible. During a full system scan with 12 other apps running, I only noticed one slight stutter while playing Minecraft. Unlike Kaspersky Mobile Security , the app does not jump to the forefront once a scan is completed. It does generate a notification center alert after each scan.

Rebooting my Samsung Galaxy S III  with Trend Micro running took an average of 32.1 seconds, about three seconds longer than the phone usually takes. It’s only 3.7 additional seconds before the Trend Micro logo appeared in the status bar.

I also noticed during my testing that Trend Micro would occasionally create a second shortcut to itself on my device’s homescreen. While not necessarily a problem, this was strange behavior that I saw on both the S III and the Nexus 7 . This would definitely be an issue for users with carefully curated homescreens.

To test how Trend Micro dealt with a potentially malicious app, I installed a legal penetration testing app. Trend Micro immediately warned me to delete the app. I ignored the warning and then performed a scan which also detected the potential threat. After doing so, the main page lit up with the words “action required’ in large, orange letters. Tapping this brought up a list of potential threats, and from here I successfully uninstalled the app.

It’s Not Just the Malware
Beyond malware, Trend Micro includes a data theft scanner. This appears to work by looking at the permissions for each app, using information the app pulls down from Trend Micro’s cloud. According to the app, the highest risk apps collect messages, photos, contacts, phone numbers, audio recordings and more. It would seem that some, if not all, of this information could be found by looking at app permissions but the app helps bring permissions issues to your attention.

Both the malware and privacy scan is run during a system scan, though each can be triggered individually. Both scanning tools also provide continuous protection, scanning all new apps downloaded on to the device. By default, the malware scanner will automatically update weekly and perform a scan immediately thereafter.

Trend Micro’s mobile security app also includes links to its Facebook privacy scanner and cloud back-up apps. These are not included in this review. While the Mobile Security app is free to download, after 30 days you’ll need to pay a hefty annual fee. However, the malware scanner will continue to work indefinitely, even after the trial period has ended. The back-up and restore app is also free, up to 50MB of storage.

Call and Text Blocking
An area often ignored by security apps is the actual voice and texting capabilities of your Android smartphone. To its credit, Trend Micro includes robust call and text filtering to give you another layer of privacy.

The app provides three ways to filter calls and texts, and three ways to deal with filtered calls. You can assign numbers to either an approved list or a blocked list from your call or message history. Then you can choose to block only black-listed callers, allow only approved callers, or allow only approved callers or anonymous calls.

Once you’ve set up your filtering rules, you have Trend Micro reject calls, silence the device, or reject a call and send a message. The second option just mutes your device, allowing it to buzz only once; it still displays the normal Android call screen. The first option, rejecting a call, simply means that the caller will hear one ring and then it will go immediately to voice mail. The third option rejects the call, and then responds with an automatic text message either written by you or from a preset list.

Similarly, you can block text messages, block and delete messages, or block and respond automatically to texts. In the second option, the text of the message is immediately discarded.

However, at no point did Trend Micro display a warning that sending automated response message could cost you money or count toward your text plan. Though it might seem obvious, such a warning could be useful to less experienced users.

Both call and text blocking are recorded in the Trend Micro app, but not in the Android call or SMS message log. This includes SMS messages which are automatically deleted, though the text is discarded in these entries. This could be useful for stalking victims who, for legal purposes, would need to maintain a list of messages but don’t want to have to see those messages.

Additionally, Trend Micro can automatically block “annoying” numbers—those being phone calls that hang up after three seconds or text messages from strange numbers or text messages from unusual numbers with specific key phrases.

Safe Surfing
While other security apps include the ability to screen websites for potential threats, Trend Micro goes the next step by including parental controls to limit children’s browsing. For both settings, you can add specific sites to a blocked or approved list.

Both the safe surfing and parental controls have three levels of gradation, from lowest to highest. In parental controls, these levels are child, pre-teen, and teen, with differing levels of access. Child blocks just about every type of website, from email to “occult” websites. At this level, most sites children will be visiting must be on the approved list.

At the pre-teen level, sites related to weapons, gambling, and activist groups are blocked. At the lowest setting, “teen”- only sites relatingto adult materials, hacking, phishing, and racism are blocked.

Parental control also includes uninstall protection, though it is optional. This is a nice touch since it allows parents to determine how they want to handle that situation with their children, as opposed to the app dictating it to them.

Similarly, the gradations for safe surfing protect against varying threats. At the lowest setting, only sites that are confirmed to be malicious are blocked, while at the highest setting it includes sites “showing any sign of fraud or malicious software.” I liked that when moving to higher levels of protection, Trend Micro warned me about suspicious bookmarks in my browser and prompted me to delete or add them to my approved site list.

Unlike other security apps, Trend Micro did not specify which browser their safe surfing service supports so I performed my test using the default Android browser. The Acid 3 test loaded in an average of 3.8 seconds using the Normal safe surfing setting. The Acid 3 test loaded in an average of 3.8 seconds using the Normal safe surfing setting .It was not demonstrably longer on the highest security setting.

On the Pre-Teen setting (medium) of the parental control filter, it took a slightly longer 4.1 seconds to load the test page. The child setting, the strictest level of parental control, took only 3.53 seconds. Neither setting had a demonstrable impact on the user. Notably, all the safe surfing settings successfully blocked a bogus Russian website.

Digital attacks on your device are certainly a cause for concern, but by far the greatest threat to any smartphone [I think one word?] user is simple theft. Trend Micro, like other security companies, provides a web portal where you can remotely activate features on your device to help you safeguard your data and get your Android back.

Like TrustGo, the web portal automatically seeks out your device’s location and displays it on Google Maps. From here you can remotely set off an alarm, or wipe the device’s memory. You can also lock the device and display a customized message  with Trend Micro’s custom lockscreen.

From within the app, you can choose to have Trend Micro lock your device when the SIM card is changed or removed. In my testing, Trend Micro successfully locked the device after the SIM was removed and the device rebooted. To unlock the device, you’ll have to login into the Trend Micro web portal and generate a new unlock key. However, it should be noted that the lock won’t activate until several seconds after the device reboots.

Many security apps let you choose the extent of a remote wipe from the web portal. Trend Micro, on the other hand, has you set these preferences locally on the device and then execute the wipe from the web portal. In the app, you select either a basic wipe (including the usual account info, SMS history, call log, etc.) or a full system restore. You trigger the wipe from the web portal, but cannot choose the extent of the wipe. By default, the app is set to do a basic wipe and not a full system restore.

Trend Micro does not include anything like Kaspersky’s mugshot feature, which captures an image of whoever is using your device at the time.

Though it brought many of the key anti-theft features offered by its competitors, I wasn’t entirely pleased with Trend Micro’s anti-theft solution. For one thing, its remote alarm was far quieter than TrustGo’s alarm. Unlike TrustGo, I could not remotely deactivate the alarm (or the lock screen) remotely, but the alarm automatically shut off after a minute. This seems  almost too polite an option, especially to startle a thief. Note that if headphones are plugged in, the volume of the alarm is greatly diminished..

More troubling was that Trend Micro’s method for locking devices remotely isn’t air-tight. When the Trend Micro lockscreen appeared, I found I was still able to access the homescreen and even activate apps. A white Trend Micro screen prevented me from doing anything with the apps, but a recent Samsung lockscreen exploit demonstrated that even a second of homescreen access is enough for a determined attacker.

Worse,  I could open the notification center, where alerts were clearly visible and  could toggle WiFi and GPS off. This is particularly worrisome  since an attacker could deactivate the WiFi, thus preventing further instructions—like a remote wipe, or location—from being sent to the device. I also noticed that I could access the list of currently running apps, see previews of what those apps displayed, and end processes.

These issues were most pronounced on the AT&T Samsung Galaxy S III. On the Nexus 7 , I was able to access the notification center and activate airplane mode. However, I was unable to access the task manager. I was, however, able to activate apps from the notification center and the homescreen. The developers have confirmed that the lockscreen issue is not consistent from device to device.

It’s important to note that I was not able to switch off Trend Micro or really interact directly with other apps. And it’s true that Trend Micro’s remote lock would provide some level of basic protection against someone who had access to your device, particularly someone who knew your device’s passcode—like a jilted lover, for example.

Trend Micro’s lockscreen is useful since it gives you password recovery options and allows you to send messages to whoever has your device. That said, the current implementation seems lacking. Bitdenfender and Kaspersky Mobile Security both allow you to send messages to your device but make use of the Android lockscreen in order to prevent any access to the device. If you’re concerned about security, you should definitely set a passcode on your Android device from the security settings menu. In my testing, I noticed TrustGo had similar issues with its lockscreen, though Trend Micro and Lookout were slightly better.

Being Secure With Trend Micro
Trend Micro’s mobile security app delivers an impressive number of tools in a single service. Moreover, I really appreciate its approach to mobile security, which provides security tools but gives you the freedom to apply them as you see fit.

Despite this, the issues with the device’s remote lock are deeply troubling. Though no software is 100% secure, the furor over the recent Samsung lockscreen exploit mark this as a major issue. I feel that Trend Micro’s implementation does not live up to the developer’s claims, and I am compelled to remind our readers to always set a locking passcode on their device.

Fortunately, Trend Micro is aware of the lockscreen issue and is working to fix it. According to the developer, the issue was introduced in the latest version of the software and is only present on a few Android models.. The lockscreen issues were most pronounced on the Samsung Galaxy S III, and less so on the Nexus 7. Trend Micro says it willl have a fix for the lockscreen issue in anupdat. I’ll adjust my score once that update is released.

There’s also the issue of pricing, because while the app itself is free it requires a $29.99 a year subscription ($49.99 for two years). The malware scanner, however, will work indefinitely for free. While Trend Micro brings a lot to bear, Kaspersky’s mobile security has SMS and call filtering along with a far better implemented lock screen for an annual fee of $14.95. TrustGo, while also suffering from lockscreen issues, is a free app and has an even higher malware detection score.

Trend Micro Mobile Security & Antivirus brings a lot to the table, but the problematic anti-theft implementation means that its score will take a hit.

Type Personal
Free Yes

Trend Micro's Mobile Security & Antivirus is a sprawling suite of tools that allow you to administer security on your Android device , but is held back by poorly implemented anti-theft features .
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc