Search Engine

Monday, November 14, 2011

Android antivirus apps are useless, here’s what to do instead

Antivirus programs have long held a place of importance on the desktop, but as mobile operating systems have grown in popularity the desktop security dogma has bled over. So indoctrinated are the users that when Android antivirus apps began appearing, users snapped them up. Although, with the flurry of news on Android malware, the users can’t really be blamed for making assumptions. Now a new report from security firm AV-Test lays out how futile this entire exercise may be.

The results

The conclusion reached by AV-Test [PDF] is that free Android anti-malware apps are simply not worth your time. It was quite the cavalcade of failure when the apps were used to scan an Android device loaded down with recent, and very real malware. Six of the seven free apps tested failed to get above 10% detection. Only Zoner AntiVirus did any better, but it could only manage 32% detection.


The results make it clear that if you pick up a free antivirus app from the Market, it is likely to miss nine out of ten potential threats. So is the answer to go with the paid apps? AV-Test also took a look at two paid anti-malware solutions for Android to answer that very question. The paid apps were able to scan and detect about half of all installed threats. That still leaves a huge number of malicious packages in the clear.

The other half of the testing was installation blocking. Here, the researchers attempted to install the threats one by one to see if the antivirus apps would spring into action as intended and stop the process. Results were slightly better for the free Zoner app, which blocked 80% of malware. The other free apps, however, failed to detect anything. The paid apps blocked all malware apps from being installed, even those that were not spotted in the manual scans.

What does it mean?

antivirus free description

The best outcome for the free apps, with Zoner AV scanning in real-time as apps are installed, 20% of known threats slipped right through. These free apps are used by millions of people, if the numbers from the Android Market are to be believed. Almost all of the free apps are little more than a placebo being brought to bear on a very rough and tumble online world.

There is no financial loss here, and you get what you pay for, right? This is a tempting conclusion to embrace, but AV-Test points out a real psychological issue with the use of these free apps. Users can become complacent and neglect security practices when they embrace the claims offered by the creators of the apps. AntiVirus Free, GuardX, and the rest are giving people a false sense of security, which can make them take more risks.

While the paid solutions did have demonstrably better results, they don’t get off scot-free either. Good on them for stopping all the threats from being installed, but far too many previously-installed malware apps were missed. In this case, users are actually paying for the apps and would reasonably expect to be able to sweep their phones clear of malware. Is this level of protection worth paying for?


Post a Comment