There are many apps—this we all know—but while some improve the security of our smartphones, others actually open up vulnerabilities. Knowing the difference between an app that makes you safer and an app that doesn’t is what separates those who become victims of hacking and malware and those who read about it in their morning briefing.

Smartphone Security Apps: The Good, the Bad, and the Unsecured

For instance, you might be surprised to learn that most anti-virus apps do little to nothing to improve the security of your device. Some are outright unhelpful, inundating you with ads, overcharging for basic features and posing more of a nuisance than even some malware.

So before you set out to download your next security app, check out our list to see what’s worth getting and what’s worth losing.

The Good

good secured smartphone apps

ExpressVPN

One type of app you’ll find is particularly effective at improving smartphone security is a Virtual Private Network (VPN). VPNs are extraordinarily effective because they stop threats before they even reach your device. They do this by connecting your device to a remote server, one that is heavily encrypted, and routing internet traffic through that encryption.

This helps you because the information being sent and received can’t be stolen to any meaningful end. Hackers that intercept sent and received information won’t be able to read it because of the encryption. On top of that, VPNs also make your device anonymous. That helps prevent you from being targeted by criminals, particularly on public WiFi (one of the number one hotspots for cybercrime).

There’s a lot more to what VPNs can do, so it’s worth doing research to learn a bit more about what each service can do for you. While ExpressVPN is a great choice, there are other VPNs that are just as effective too.

Avast Mobile Security

Admittedly, Avast is traditionally considered an anti-virus app, but it actually does other things better when it comes to the mobile version. Even with a consistently updated virus database, its real strengths lie in protecting your device from theft, scanning third-party apps and providing a firewall with the pro version.

Other useful features include the ability to lock apps and recover data. Most of Avast’s basic features are free, but if you’re looking to get the most out of it, the premium version is the preferred choice.

Titanium Backup

Rated as one of the best backup apps available, Titanium Backup is great simply because it helps recover anything you’ve lost. That includes changes to your phone’s operating system, apps (both first and third party), and even things on your SD card.

It differs from standard backup services such as those provided by Apple and Samsung because it encompasses more than just your contacts, call logs and messages. There are also some extra features available to those with root access, such as encryption of your stored backups.

LastPass

Another great app that uses encryption to back up its features is LastPass. Ordinarily, password storage isn’t advisable; it just makes it easier for others to access your accounts. But with LastPass, hackers can’t steal the stored information, and you still need a password to access services.

The trick is you only need one password to access everything. Your master password becomes the only one you need to guard and change, meaning you can use difficult passwords for every service you access without concern over whether you’ll be able to remember them (and since you aren’t just storing the password locally unencrypted, theft isn’t a problem).

The Bad

bad unsecured smartphone apps

Android Antivirus

The name suggests a lot about what this app does—unfortunately, the name is sort of bogus. The app is a basic program that helps deal with malware. Unfortunately, things don’t work the same way on Android as they do on home operating systems such as Windows.

That’s because anti-virus apps don’t have the low-level access needed to prevent other apps from interfering with your system. In reality, compromised apps likely have more access to your device than your anti-virus, so they’re not likely to be stopped.

Plus, other anti-virus apps are simply a better choice.

ProxyVPN Free VPN Proxy

As good as a VPN can be, not all are created equal. You’ll find that unpaid VPNs typically come with a host of problems, including limited bandwidth and speed (don’t be fooled by advertisements. If you aren’t paying for the service, nothing is guaranteed) and lack of encryption or encryption that is easy to crack.

ProxyVPN is just one of many examples of apps you’ll want to avoid. They might be selectively useful, but in general, you’ll get much better mileage out of paid versions.

The Unsecured

unsecured mobile apps

Lookout Mobile Security

It pains me to list Lookout because it comes preinstalled in my newest device (the Galaxy Note 7), but unfortunately, it has some major problems. Besides the usual issue of being an anti-virus program that does very little to stop malware once it’s on your device, none of its useful features is actually free.

Virtually anything that might make Lookout a decent app is paid for, and on top of that, it can’t be removed on devices it comes preinstalled on unless the device is rooted. Newer versions of Android allow users to “disable” apps but not fully remove them.

Cat Bluetooth Proxy

Besides creating an app that there is no need for, Cat Bluetooth Proxy may be a real hazard to its users. To begin with, Bluetooth connections are relatively safe if they are properly configured, and adding an intermediary is not necessary.

In fact, one of Bluetooth’s advantages is that it doesn’t require an online connection. Forcing one into the mix increases vulnerability and affords hackers an additional opportunity to cause problems with paired devices such as headsets and smartwatches.

Proxy Server for Facebook

This app is what you’d expect to see targeted at high schoolers or workers trying to access social media apps through a secured network by accessing a proxy. But free proxies are rarely good news; anyone running that proxy can access the data entering and exiting their server. It could even be used to steal their customers’ data.

Beware of any apps that promise free proxies; the lack of encryption means your data isn’t safe from prying eyes. Free proxies are the most suspect because without heavy advertising (which is itself a nuisance), there’s little incentive for the app developer to run a server.

Apps are virtually always designed to make money, so you should be suspicious of apps available on the Play Store or App Store that are entirely “free.”

Be Careful What You Download

Whether you use security apps is ultimately your own decision. Just know that if you choose to download security apps, some will help, and others will just use your phone’s resources without actually benefiting you.

When it comes to security apps, follow a few simple rules: use first-party apps from the Play Store or the App Store, and be cautious of using free apps. Some are okay, particularly those that offer premium features, but others do virtually nothing unless you pay.

What apps does your smartphone have installed for security purposes? Share your collection in the comments below.