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Sophos dangles free Android antivirus to tempt BYOD-friendly biz

Fandroids, don't let your phone be pwned

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Sophos has crafted a freebie antivirus app dubbed Sophos Mobile Security for Android-powered devices.

The software tries to protect smartphones against malware, warns fandroids of privacy-invading programs and can lock down a gadget if it's lost or stolen, ideally without taxing either performance or battery life. The software, released on Monday, can be downloaded from Google Play.

Several free-of-charge security scanners already exist for the Android platform, but the performance of some in recent tests has been mediocre. Paid-for products from the likes of Kaspersky and F-Secure tend to perform better. Sophos is positioning its product against the more capable freebie Android scanners from the likes of Lookout and AVG (Droid Security), but with the additional benefit of offering hardware loss and privacy dashboard features more associated with paid-for products.

Sophos Mobile Security is designed to automatically scan apps as users install them, thus blocking undesirable software. The technology also locates lost or stolen Android devices as well as shielding personal information from thieves.

Sophos has entered the mobile security zone a few years late, but rather than corner the freebie Android scanner market, its new software will be used to market a managed Enterprise version, due to be released this year.

The strategy makes sense because it dovetails neatly with the bring-your-own-device craze that's allowing consumers' technology choices shape corporate IT, including the mobile security products that are used.

Android malware last year increased 155 percent from 2010, according to Juniper Networks.

"We're seeing no slowdown in the number of malicious apps, as more smartphone owners use their devices to not only store personal data, but also access social networks and the internet," said Matthias Pankert, vice president of product management, Sophos. "This usage, coupled with the increase in Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) activity, is making Android devices a compelling target for cybercriminals and malware."

Sophos released a freebie security scanner for Macs two years ago. The plan in that case was more about improving home punters' cyber-hygiene than pushing licences, but mobile security is much more integral to the corporate plans of the UK-based security software firm, so Sophos Mobile Security is not a philanthropic gesture. ®

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