The Best Privacy and Security Apps for Android

Secure your messages, phone calls, and personal data

Mobile security
Getty Images

With numerous high-profile security breaches and hacks in the news, privacy and security are hot topics for many Android users. The concerns aren't just about emails either; all your data is at risk including photos, text messages, files, and browser history. It's more important than ever to keep your data safe from would-be hackers and prying eyes.

Many of us manage our lives via smartphones. This one device holds a lot of power, and it's essential to stay on top of mobile security. Here are mobile apps you should consider downloading to keep your communications, financial data, and other private information safe and secure. It's important to download these apps from a reputable source such as the Google Play Store.

Messaging and Email

For the maximum security when texting and emailing, end-to-end encryption is key. Encrypting a message means that only the sender and receiver can read it; not even the messaging company itself can decrypt them. With end-to-end encryption, you don't have to worry about private messages being forwarded to other parties or law enforcement gaining access to your data by subpoena. Your device is still susceptible to hack or theft though, so take other precautions such as installing a virtual private network (VPN), keeping a close eye on your belongings, and using the Android Device Manager to track or brick your phone in case of loss or theft.

Signal Private Messenger by Open Whisper Systems
Signal Private Messenger received an endorsement on Twitter by none other than Edward Snowden, which isn't a surprise considering it's a free app with no ads that uses end-to-end encryption to keep your messages and voice chats private. It doesn't even require an account; you can activate the app via text message. Once you're set up, you can import the messages stored on your phone into the app. You can also use Signal Private Messenger to send unencrypted messages to non-Signal users, this way you don't have to toggle between apps. You can also make encrypted and unencrypted voice calls from the app. Keep in mind that texts and calls made using Signal use data, so be mindful of your data limits and use Wi-Fi (with a VPN) when possible.

Telegram by Telegram Messenger LLP
Telegram works similarly to Signal Private Messenger but offers some extra features including stickers and GIFs. There are no ads in the app, and it's completely free. You can use Telegram on multiple devices (although only on one phone), and you can't send messages to non-Telegram users. All messages on Telegram are encrypted, but you can choose to store messages in the cloud or make them accessible only on the device that sent or received the messages. The latter feature is called Secret Chats, which can be programmed to self-destruct.

Wickr Me – Private Messenger by Wickr Inc.
Wickr Me also offers end-to-end encrypted text, video, and picture messaging, as well as voice chat. It has a shredder feature that permanently removes all deleted messages, images, and video from your device. Like Signal and Telegram, Wickr Me is free of cost and ads. It has stickers, as well as graffiti and photo filters.

ProtonMail – Encrypted Email by ProtonMail
An email service based in Switzerland, ProtonMail requires two passwords, one to log in to your account and the other to encrypt and decrypt your messages. Encrypted data is stored on the company's servers, which are housed under 1,000 meters of granite rock in a bunker in Switzerland. The free version of ProtonMail includes 500MB of storage and 150 messages per day. The premium ProtonPlus plan bumps up the storage to 5GB and the message allotment to 300 per hour or 1000 per day while the ProtonMail Visionary plan offers 20GB of storage and unlimited messages.

Browsers and VPN

DuckDuckGo Privacy Browser by DuckDuckGo
DuckDuckGo is a search engine with a mascot and a twist: it doesn't track your search activity or target ads to you based on your data. The downside to the search engine not collecting information about you is that the search results aren't as tailored as Google's. It comes down to choosing between customization and privacy.

You can also enable Tor, a private web browser, within DuckDuckGo. Tor protects your privacy by preventing websites from identifying your location and individuals from tracking the site you visit. However, you'll need an accompanying app, such as OrBot: Proxy with Tor by The Tor Project, to encrypt your internet traffic.

Ghostery Privacy Browser by Ghostery
Ever notice something you searched for, such as a pair of sneakers, show up as an ad on another website? Ghostery helps you minimize access to your data by ad trackers and other tools. You can view all the trackers on a website and block any with which you're not comfortable. It also lets you quickly clear your cookies and cache, and you can choose from eight different search engines including DuckDuckGo.

Avira Phantom VPN by AVIRA and NordVPN by NordVPN
If you use Wi-Fi often to save on data consumption, your security may be at risk. Open Wi-Fi connections, such as those offered at coffee shops and public places are vulnerable to hackers who can tunnel in and capture your private information. A virtual private network, such as Avira Phantom VPN or NordVPN, encrypts your connection and your location to keep snoops out. Both also enable you to choose a location so you can view content that's regionally restricted, such as a sporting event or TV show. Avira Phantom VPN offers up to 500MB of data monthly and ups that to 1GB if you register. Phantom VPN offers free and paid apps. NordVPN is a paid app with unlimited data and three paid options. It offers a 30-day money-back guarantee.

Adblock Browser for Android by Eyeo GmbH
While ads help many websites and apps pay the bills, they're often intrusive, obstructing something you're trying to read or getting in the way of a good user experience. This experience can be especially frustrating on a small screen. Worse, some ads contain tracking or even malware. As with its desktop counterpart, you can choose to block all ads and whitelist sites you'd like to support with this app.

Phone Calls

Silent Phone – Private Calls by Silent Circle Inc.
We've talked about encrypting your text messages, emails, and voice chats, but if you're someone who uses your phone as a phone, you'll want to do the same for your calls. Silent Phone not only encrypts your phone calls, but it also offers secure file sharing and has a self-destruct feature for text messages. A paid subscription includes unlimited calls and messages.

Files and Apps

SpiderOakONE by SpiderOak Inc.
Cloud storage is a huge convenience, but as with everything online, it is susceptible to hacks. SpiderOakONE touts itself as being a 100 percent no-knowledge app, meaning your data is readable only by you. Other cloud storage services can read your data, which means if there's a data breach, your information is vulnerable. The company offers several fee-based plans, but it offers a 21-day trial and doesn't require a credit card on file, so you don't have to worry about unwanted charges if you try it and then forget to cancel.

AppLock by DoMobile Lab
When you pass your phone around to share pictures or let your child play a game on it, you've probably had that sinking feeling that they might see something on there that you don't want them to. AppLock lets you keep would-be snoops out by locking apps with a password, PIN, pattern, or fingerprint. Locking your apps provides a layer of security if your phone is lost or stolen and someone unlocks it. You can also secure images and videos in your Gallery app. It uses a random keyboard and invisible pattern lock so you can avoid giving away your password or pattern. You can also prevent others from killing or uninstalling AppLock. Applock has a free option that's ad-supported, or you can pay to get rid of ads.