You may think it’s easy to detect a hacker on your phone. It’s not. The longer a hack goes undetected, the more damage it can do. Tap or click here to learn about signs that your phone is under attack. Your first line of defense is an antivirus program. While it’s easy to turn to the countless free apps you can find online, remember that nothing is truly free. Keep reading to see why free antivirus apps are a terrible idea and one solution to protect all your devices.

Tracking, not protecting

Researchers at Cybernews looked at the 40 highest-ranking cleaning and antivirus apps on the Google Play Store. These apps have collectively been downloaded close to a billion times. Yikes! You would think the most popular apps would be the best options. If so, you’re wrong. Here are the three worst offenders by tracker count:

Nova Security – Virus Cleaner: 30 trackersFancy Booster – Cleaner, Antivirus & Speed Up: 23 trackersAntivirus, Virus Cleaner, Booster – Fancy security: 23 trackers

Super Antivirus and Virtual Guard were the only apps found to be completely free of trackers. RELATED: Check your phone – Antivirus apps caught spreading banking malware

Failing the test

Mobile Security Framework (MobSF) is a mobile app that tests, analyzes and assesses the security level and vulnerability of apps for Android, iOS and Windows. Cybernews compiled a list of apps according to the MobSF security score, ranging from zero to 100. The three lowest MobSF scores on the list were as follows:

Smart Cleaner: 15Nova Security – Virus Cleaner: 10Safe Security – Antivirus, Booster, Phone Cleaner: 9

The three highest MobSF scores were better but still not great:

Keep Clean Cleaner, Antivirus: 54Fancy Booster – Cleaner, Antivirus & Speed Up: 46Clean Guard Phone Cleaner: 41

High risk

The report shows that six of the apps contained “likely malicious links,” which can be used to steal your private information, banking credentials and more. Malicious links were detected in the following apps:

Dr.Capsule Antivirus, Cleaner: Three malicious linksGO Security – Antivirus, AppLock, Booster: Two malicious linksVirus Hunter 2021 Virus Scanner and Phone Cleaner: Two malicious linksAVC Antivirus & Virus Cleaner: One malicious linkFancy Booster – Cleaner, Antivirus & Speed Up: One malicious linkPhone Junk – Clean Master: One malicious link

Free at a cost

Aside from tracking you, antivirus apps that advertise themselves as free more often than not make up for it by other means:

The no-cost angle is just an introduction. Do you want better protection? Break out your wallet.An antivirus app may not cost you money, but it will cost you privacy when it sells your data.Some free antivirus programs offer little or no protection at all.Low-quality apps have poor or malicious coding that can do more harm than good.

RELATED: Antivirus isn’t just for your computer – Here’s why you should protect your smartphone, too

Delete the offenders

If you installed any of the antivirus apps mentioned in the study or others that you got for free, you should get rid of them now. Here’s how:

Open the Google Play Store app.At the top right, tap the Profile icon.Tap Manage apps & devices > Manage.Tap the name of the app you want to delete.Tap Uninstall.

Get protection now with TotalAV

An antivirus solution is essential, but you don’t need to search for a good one. We recommend our sponsor, TotalAV. TotalAV’s industry-leading security suite is easy to use and offers the best protection in the business. In fact, it’s received the renowned VB100 award for detecting more than 99% of malware samples for the last three years in a row. Beyond continuous protection from the latest threats, TotalAV’s AI-driven Web Shield browser extension blocks dangerous websites automatically, and its Junk Cleaner can help you quickly clear out old files. TotalAV covers your laptop, desktop computer, smartphone or tablet and is compatible with Windows, Mac, iOS and Android systems. Right now, get an annual plan of TotalAV Internet Security for only $19 at That’s over 85% off the regular price! You may also like: Delete these apps to keep your phone fast and safe