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Free Android antivirus 'doesn't work'

Pay for AV picks up only 50% if threats

Free apps which claim to be Android antivirus simply don't work, according to AV-Test.org. Updated 15 November.

The security research lab looked at seven free, and two pay-for Android AV products, and came to the conclusion that the free products simply aren't worth installing. The results of the tests can be found in the report 'Are free Android virus scanners any good?', published today. The conclusion can be summarised thus: 'no', but it's worth bearing in mind that more full-featured Android security products combine antivirus protection with theft prevention and safer web browsing. Being able to locate, lock and wipe a stolen phone or tablet is - at this point - of much greater benefit than antivirus. See also: Group test: what's the best Android antivirus?

A search for the term "Antivirus" in the Android Market brings up many programs. Each claims to defend Android smartphones and Android tablets against malware threats in the Android ecosystem. AT-Test took seven of these free apps -Antivirus Free, BluePoint Antivirus Free, GuardX Antivirus, Kinetoo Malware Scan, LabMSF Antivirus beta, Privateer Lite, and Zoner AntiVirus Free - and tested them against two pay-for products from Kaspersky and F-Secure. The test device was a first-generation Samsung Galaxy Tab, running Android 2.2, and the apps were all downloaded and installed from the Android market, and tested against 10 malware apps found live in the wild, AV-Test said.

The scanned test set contained 83 Android installation packages (APK) and 89 Dalvik binaries (DEX). No files were more than five months old. Unsurprisingly Kaspersky and F-Secure posted the best results, picking up at least 50 percent of all malware samples. The best free app was Zoner AntiVirus Free, which detected only 32 percent of the malicious apps. In fact, this was the only freebie to find more than 10 percent of the malicious apps. Shockingly, some didn’t detect anything at all.

So according to AV-Test's results, the free anti-virus software tested and available from the Google Market will miss nine out of 10 Android malware samples. Perhaps even more interesting: the commercial products for Android tested – from Kaspersky and F-Secure – are themselves only 50 percent effective. One in two threats hitting your Android phone or tablet will be missed even by this paid-for anti-virus software.

See also: Best Android Apps

Real-time guard tests were described by AV-Test as 'shocking'. In this test AV-Test attempts to load 10 malicious files on to the device. Each was malware known to all tradional AV vendors, but in this test only Zoner AntiVirus Free achieved respectibility, finding eight out of 10 samples during the installation attempts.

BluePoint AntiVirus Free, Kinetoo Malware Scan and Privateer Lite warned against only one malicious app. Antivirus Free by Creative Apps, GuardX Antivirus and LabMSF Antivirus beta failed completely, finding nothing at all. The pay-for apps detected all threats.

One problem AV-Test noted was that during the scan of the test device some of the apps scanned only installed apps, missing entirely Android malware located on SD memory cards, for instance.

In response to this story, Riley Hassell, founder of Privateer Labs, told PC Advisor: "Since Android malware research is still very fresh to the industry there is a lack of malware sample sharing between the various R&D groups. We identified this earlier in the year when we began providing Privateer to Android consumers.

"In the last two months we've been hard at work building a trusted group that includes leaders for many of the Android malware protection app providers. The Privateer R&D team has also been building a new scanning engine to detect malware based on it's features and behaviour versus straight signatures of *known* threats.  This new system will be deployed by the end of this quarter.

"I can only speak for ourselves, but I would assume free app providers experience a similar challenge. Since Privateer Lite is run primarily by non-profit contributors it has been a challenge for us to build out a significant team to be on the bleeding edge of the new malware that affects mobile users. We're rectifying this by providing a pay app, Privateer Premium, releasing with the new AV engine in the coming months that will provided a revenue stream directly associated with the Malware research aspect of Privateer Labs.

"We've been the new guy on the block for a little while but we plan to provide a game changing solution to combat the latest and future rounds of sophisticated threats heading our way in the coming months."

See also: Norton Mobile Security 2.5 review

Since Android malware research is still very fresh to the industry there is

a lack of malware sample sharing between the various R&D groups. We

identified this earlier in the year when we began providing Privateer to

Android consumers. In the last two months we've been hard at work building a

trusted group that includes leaders for many of the Android malware

protection app providers. The Privateer R&D team has also been building a

new scanning engine to detect malware based on it's features and behavior

vs. straight signatures of *known* threats.  This new system will be

deployed by the end of this quarter. Lastly I can only speak for ourselves,

but I would assume free app providers experience a similar challenge. Since

Privateer Lite is run primarily by non-profit contributors it has been a

challenge for us to build out a significant team to be on the bleeding edge

of the new malware that affects mobile users. We're rectifying this by

providing a pay app, Privateer Premium, releasing with the new AV engine in

the coming months that will provided a revenue stream directly associated

with the Malware research aspect of Privateer Labs. We've been the new guy

on the block for a little while but we plan to provide a game changing

solution to combat the latest and future rounds of sophisticated threats

heading our way in the coming months.


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