McAfee Mobile 2.0 moves beyond virus protection

A new feature called App Alert checks if Android applications access private data

Intel-owned McAfee has released Mobile Security 2.0, which allows users of Android-based smartphones and tablets to keep better track of what applications are up to, the company said on Monday.

Today, many of Android's perceived security weaknesses stem from the openness of Android Market, and the availability of rogue applications.

McAfee has taken that to heart and added a feature called App Alert, which provides information about what applications are doing with users' personal information. Although Android Market already informs users of the phone functions accessed by the apps they download, the list can be long. App Alert specifically checks whether a downloaded app requests access to personal information including contacts, and warns the user.

A future version will also be able to check the reputation of the app developer, according to McAfee.

The company has added call and SMS filtering, so users can block unwanted calls and senders of spam texts, according to McAfee.

At its core, Mobile Security 2.0 scans and cleans malicious code from files, memory cards, applications, downloads, text messages, and attachments, according to McAfee.

But there are also a number of features to help people that lose their smartphones. Absent-minded users can remotely lock access to all data, including that stored on the SIM card, and display a message with contact details on the phone.

They can also remotely wipe data on their phone and the removable memory card. To ensure that nothing is lost, a backup can be made before everything is deleted, according to McAfee. To find the phone, users can view the device's location on a map, send an SMS to prompt its return, and use a remote alarm to help find it, McAfee said.

Users' biggest security concerns are not viruses, but related to where private content is sent, and the protection of passwords that can be used to access many different services, according to analyst Geoff Blaber of CCS Insight.

To address users concerns, security vendors seem to be taking a more holistic approach to smartphone protection, rather that a PC-oriented approach, which is very much focused on viruses and malware, Blaber said.

"We have been talking about viruses on mobiles for years, but we are yet to get to the point were there has been a piece of malware that has really hit phones," he said.

Besides Android, McAfee Mobile Security 2.0 is available for devices running BlackBerry OS and Symbian, but users of those platforms will have to manage without App Alert, which isn't included.

The software costs US$29.99 for new users and existing subscribers can download the updated software for free.

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