Now that smart phones are proliferating the market, it's only natural for wayward developers to create malware for the platforms. Enter Lookout Mobile Security, a mobile app that not only prevents harmful programs from getting on your smart phone, but also backs up (some) of your data and can even help you find your handset if it's lost. Not bad for a free app.
Lookout Mobile Security is compatible with Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile phones, and can be downloaded from those respective markets, or by going to www.mylookout.com and creating an account. We used the latter method and registered our Nexus One phone; it was as easy as entering our phone number. After synching, an image of our device appeared on the left side of the web page, and below it, our phone number.
On the right are tabs for Dashboard, Anti-Virus, Data Backup, Missing Device, and Settings. The Dashboard view is selected by default, and it shows at a glance the status of your phone. If everything is okay, a green bar indicates so; below it are three large green check marks, indicating the status of Anti-Virus, Backup, and Missing Device.
The phone app interface is just as simple: At the top is a green check mark and the words "Everything is OK." Below are three larger check marks indicating the status of Anti-Virus protection, Data Backup, and Missing Device. From the phone itself, you can run a virus scan and perform a backup, as well as set the frequency of both. You can also choose the types of files to back up. The app is designed to run quietly in the background; company reps told us it used less than 1 percent of the battery's resources; indeed, Lookout rarely, if ever, showed up on the battery usage meter.
Users can check their phones for malware by pressing the Run Virus Scan button in the Lookout app. A full scan of 86 apps on our Nexus One took about 6 seconds. Lookout told us that some of the analysis is done on the device, while some takes place on Lookout's servers, keeping phone resource requirements to a minimum. After scanning, a log is created on the Lookout website stating the number of files scanned, dangerous apps found, and recommended actions. The app also checks to see if any apps being downloaded are dangerous and warns you against installing them. Unfortunately, there is no identity protection yet.
Data backup can be performed either from the phone or website by pressing the Start Backup button. Currently, backups are available only for photos, contacts, and records. Once the data was saved to Lookout's servers, the web interface made it easy to view all three types individually, as well as when they were backed up. We were also given the option of deleting or downloading the data.
Users get 2GB of free online storage and can schedule backups on a recurring basis, as with virus scans. From the website, users can also restore the data to their phone, or transfer it to a new one. This feature will be even more useful once Lookout supports app backups (not scheduled as of yet).
Probably the most useful service Lookout provides is finding your phone should it go missing. Provided your phone is turned on, pressing the Locate button on the website pulls up a map showing the approximate location of your phone. In practice, it was fairly accurate. Within 16 seconds, it had narrowed the location of our handset within 500 meters of its actual position, shown as a large circle on the map. After 1 minute, the circle shrank to 70 meters, and after 2 minutes, it was down to 50 meters. Even better, Lookout e-mails you a link to the map, as well as its latitude and longitude. However, GPS must be activated; there's no way for the app to turn it on.
If you've misplaced your phone, Lookout's "Scream" feature makes the phone emit a loud siren noise for about a minute. After we pressed the Scream button on the website, an on-screen window warned that the sound would be loud and annoying, which it was. The alarm will activate even if the phone is set to silent. The one thing that would make this service even better is if you could remotely wipe your phone, though that feature is typically reserved for paid apps.
For a free app, Lookout Mobile Security packs in a lot of functionality. Not only does it protect your phone against the emerging threat of malware, but it makes sure your data is protected in case your phone goes missing. And if it does get lost, Lookout provides two ways to try to find it. While the likelihood of getting a virus on your phone is still quite small (for now), the chances of misplacing your smart phone are much greater; it's nice to know that Lookout Mobile Security has you covered in both regards.