Vipre Mobile

Software reviews - Smartphone safety

Mobile phones now need as much protection as laptops - if not more.

GFI

Vipre Mobile

Free or $9.95 a year for premium version

Not so long ago, malware attacks on mobile phones were exceptional: they had been demonstrated as technically feasible, but they were far from common. Apart from anything else, they were hard to do and there was little reward for the attacker apart from the ego-boost.

What changed that was, first, the arrival of the smartphone, able to download and run apps, and then, more recently, the development of devious yet clever ways to monetise the writing of viruses, Trojans, ad-ware and all the other junk that makes up today's malware market. This typically means tricking your phone into sending premium-rate texts or buying expensive apps.

As our use of these powerful pocket-computers grows and grows, being ripped-off financially isn't the only threat. Many smartphones are phone, diary, address book and email in-tray all rolled into one - the latter probably being full of sensitive work documents. Losing the hardware is painful enough; having its contents stolen could be much, much worse.

GFI's Vipre Mobile Security is one of several app bundles aiming to protect Android against most of these threats. Certain features are free, such as virus and malware scanning, while others are unlocked by a premium subscription, at $1/month or $10/year. You can'backup your contacts for free, for example, but not your bookmarks or your personal dictionary.

Similarly, you can remotely activate an alarm'on your device to help you find it, even if'it'is set to silent, but only subscribers can lock'(using the handset's normal PIN or pattern'lock - assuming you have set one, of course) and wipe it remotely, or locate it on a map. The premium version also adds activity monitoring features, such as recording the device's Web, texting and call history, and any app updates.

All of these records and features can then be accessed remotely via your account on the Vipre Mobile website. Another useful website feature is the ability to remotely lock-down the backup, activity monitoring and lost-device controls. They continue to work, but are not accessible to the device user.

One thing Vipre Mobile lacks is a stealth mode, where it would run invisibly - you can't'even remove the status bar icon. Other tracking and remote-lock apps are a little more'covert, such as Prey, which is also multi-platform.

 

Bullguard

Mobile Backup 12

Android, iOS, Symbian: From £10/year or free trial

While it is Android that gets a lot of the bad press around security, rogue apps have been reported for other platforms too, including Blackberry and Symbian, and the Nokia-backed Windows Phone operating system will undoubtedly be targeted by malware authors as its usage grows. Even Apple's iOS, with its heavily-curated Appstore, can be vulnerable to online malware or data theft.

And of course, any mobile device can be lost, stolen or damaged, which is one reason why the latest version of Bullguard's Mobile Backup app is available for Android, Symbian and iOS, with Blackberry and Windows Phone on the way, and for tablets as well as smartphones.

From a functional perspective, this is a backup utility, pure and simple. What's interesting is that it is multi-platform, so you can backup on one type of handset, say an old Blackberry or Symbian device, and restore to a new Android device or iPhone. The caveat is that it is a migration process, not a synchronisation; Bullguard says it is working on a synch-capable version, however.

Apart from the momentary annoyance of having to scroll manually all the way down a very long list of countries, from Abkhazia onwards, registration is straightforward. You are asked for a licence key, but if all you want for now is the 30-day trial - to change handsets, say - just skip that and move on. The only difference between the free trial and the paid-for version, apart from the time limit, is the storage capacity.

On Android, it lets you backup your SMS and MMS archive, as well as contacts, calendar and assorted media files. You can also choose to have it backup your ringtones, user settings and specific files or folders that you select, though not your Web bookmarks, rather surprisingly.

However, the iOS version supports only contacts, calendar, pictures and video, so there is no way to move, say, your SMS history on or off an iPhone.

In addition, there is no access to your data online, it can only be retrieved by restoring it to a mobile device. When you restore, you need to register the new device as having the same phone number as the old one, even if it has actually changed.

 

Plan B

Lookout Mobile Security

Android: Free

The big drawback with anti-theft tracking programs for mobile devices is if you only realise you need one when it is too late. Lookout has a potential solution for that, in the appropriately-named Plan B.

The idea is relatively simple: if you lose your phone you log into the Google Play app store (formerly known as the Android Market) with the Google account'your phone or tablet is registered under. Play lets you install apps on your devices remotely, so you tell it to install Plan B - and assuming the phone'hasn't already had its battery removed by a savvy thief,'off it goes.

Plan B starts automatically, then uses the usual cell tower and base station method to get its location, and sends that to your Gmail account. It keeps this up for 10 minutes; if you haven't found the device by then you can start it reporting again with a text message.

It didn't work on the Android tablet we tested it on, but pushing'it to a phone did get a response. This took the form of an email every two or three minutes, with an embedded map. This got progressively more accurate, down to within 12m as'the GPS'tuned in, then suddenly dropped to a 250m circle when I turned GPS off to see how it would do on cell towers and Wi-Fi only.

SMS : GPS Enabler, Android: Free

If you habitually leave GPS and'Wi-Fi off, perhaps to save battery, SMS GPS Enabler will let you turn them on remotely via text messages, as long as your phone has one of the latest versions of Android that supports this.

Its paid-for big brother SMS Enabler Advanced can activate other elements of the handset remotely as well. For example, it can also turn on the vibrating alert or flash the LED to help you find a mislaid phone in the dark - assuming you have access to a second phone or a web SMS service to send the text message from, of course.

Alternatively there are remote control programs to manage your phone from a website, such as Remote Phone Access. As well as enabling GPS and Wi-Fi, this lets you locate, erase or lock the device and perform more routine tasks such as file transfers and checking call logs.

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