The closest thing to a firm definition of a smartphone is that users can install and run third-party applications. This effectively makes it an ultra-portable computer that happens to support making phone calls.
As with all computers, there is a risk that these third-party applications may cause security problems that can range from your phone not working properly to your data being lost.
Don't the manufacturers provide security?
To an extent, though it isn't always foolproof. Apple is arguably the most secure system because applications are only officially available through the iTunes app store and have been vetted for security issues before being put up for download. Other brands of phone do have some security measures. For example, Android uses a permission system by which everything an app can do is put into a category and the user must expressly give permission for the app to run on a category-by-category basis. This is intended to cut down security risks such as a rogue app purporting to do one thing but actually doing another.
How does third party security software work?
Though there is some slight variation, it generally works in the same way as software for ordinary computers. At its simplest it performs scans of all the files on your phone and highlights anything that matches a list of suspicious files or known viruses. More advanced security software will actively scan any file before it is run for the first time, known as real-time monitoring. Some systems attempt to create a firewall, controlling what data goes in and out of the phone, though it can be tricky to get this to work with some operating systems.
Are there added features?
Some software offers tools that allow you to track your phone's location if it is stolen, or even remotely lock the handset and/or wipe personal data. Generally the phone manufacturer themselves will offer a similar service that may be more reliable than a third-party solution.
Is security software worthwhile on a smartphone?
This is somewhat debatable, and smartphones are so (relatively) new that there hasn't been enough time to really study the effects and benefits of such software. The irony is that the software is most likely to be useful for people who practice shoddy security practices such as installing apps from unreliable services, or not using the phone's built-in security tools, but these people are unlikely to consider such services. For most people, added security software's main benefit will be peace of mind, and this may mean it is too expensive to be worthwhile.
Is there anything else to watch for?
When installing security software, be extremely careful to check that you have obtained it from a reliable source, that what you are installing is what it claims to be, and that it has received good reports. There haven't been widespread reports of bogus security software, but it is a potential tactic for scammers and hackers.
As with all security software, check whether the price is all-inclusive or if you'll need to pay an annual service fee.