Avast Software has launched a free Android security product that combines antivirus, anti-theft and firewall components and provides special features for rooted devices.
Avast Free Mobile Security supports a number of features that are usually available only in paid-for Android security software. These include privacy reports, call and SMS filtering, SIM-card change notifications, firewall and application management.
The antivirus component supports real-time protection and automatic updates. Updates can be configured to only be downloaded over certain types of connections and the interface can be protected with a password.
Avast Free Mobile Security offers protection against Web-based threats through a component that integrates with the default Android browser, which is a feature missing from some other free Android security products.
The product can also scan installed applications for potential privacy issues by analyzing their system permissions. This information is presented to users under the form of a privacy report that explains what risks are associated with certain levels of access.
Call and SMS filtering can help device owners block annoying advertising calls or spam text messages. Users can define groups of phone numbers and configure the blocking intervals for them.
The firewall component is only available for rooted devices because it requires special system-level access to enforce its rules. Device owners can use it to block individual applications from accessing the Internet over certain types of connections.
For example, if a user likes a particular game, but is unhappy with the fact that it requires Internet access, they can can install it and then block its access from the firewall.
The anti-theft features in Avast Free Mobile Security are comparable to those offered in commercial products. They include remote device tracking, locking and wiping. Users can define two phone numbers that will receive notifications if the device is lost or stolen and which can control it via SMS commands.
The Avast developers have tried their best to make the anti-theft component very hard to detect, disable or uninstall by unauthorized users, especially on rooted devices.
The component can run in what is known as stealth mode, which allows users to rename it and to use a generic icon for it. When stealth mode is active, the anti-theft interface can only be accessed by initiating a phone call to a user-defined password.
On rooted phones, the component can provide protection against hard resets, a special action that returns the phone to factory settings; can deny access to the phone’s settings and program manager; can prevent activating USB debugging, a mode that allows the device to be altered by computer software; can force the data connection to always be on and can enable the GPS module.
A device is locked down automatically when the SIM card is changed or can be locked down via an SMS command. The array of supported commands except phone locking is extensive and includes message forwarding, phone call initiating, starting a siren, getting location information, wiping all data, downloading contacts, rebooting the phone and many others.
Avast Free Mobile Security is one of the most complete Android security products on the market, its feature-set even exceeding that of some commercial products. Its interface is well-designed and intuitive, presenting users with detailed instructions about security risks and available actions.