Most Android antivirus apps fail to provide malware protection, study shows

Most Android antivirus apps on the Google Play Store fail to provide users with adequate malware protection, according to a study by AV-Comparatives.

The Austrian antivirus testing company downloaded 250 anti-malware apps from various developers on the Google Play Store. The apps where then checked to determine whether they were able to protect against the 2,000 most common malware threats for Android, through AV-Comparatives’ automated testing framework.

The tests were mostly performed on Samsung Galaxy S9 devices on Android 8.0, but because some apps were not working properly with that set-up, they were instead tested on Nexus 5 devices on Android 6.01. The devices were automated to download and install malware apps, with the presumption that the antivirus apps would be able to block most of the security threats.

Unfortunately, that was not the case. Out of the 250 Android antivirus apps involved in the study, only 23 were able to detect and block 100 percent of the malware samples. The apps include the Android security apps that we recommended about a year ago, namely Avast Mobile Security, Avira Antivirus Security, AVG, Sophos Mobile Security, and Trend Micro Mobile Security and Antivirus.

AV-Comparatives revealed that 80 of the 250 apps were able to detect over 30 percent of the malware, with zero false alarms. The study also found that antivirus apps from 138 vendors blocked less than 30 percent of the malware samples, or had high false alarm rates on clean files from the Google Play Store. There were even 16 apps that were not properly migrated to Android 8, which decreased their protection capabilities on devices running newer versions of Android.

The testing company flagged many antivirus apps that were using a black list approach to tag potential malware, which is easily bypassed by malware creators. They did not actually scan downloaded apps for malware, which is what a legitimate antivirus app should do.

When choosing which Android antivirus app to download, AV-Comparatives recommended against taking a look at user ratings and download counts, as they can be faked and do not prove that an app provides proper malware protection. Instead, the testing company recommended using only apps of “well-known, verified and reputable” vendors, which participate in tests carried out by independent institutes and have professional websites that provide contact information and a privacy policy.

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