According to a recent run of tests and the associated study conducted by independent security checking organization AV-Comparisons, the vast majority of security software available for Android is simply not up to the task of accomplishing its claimed purpose. Alarmingly, of around 250 security apps tested, only 32-percent were able to detect more than 30-percent of threats and offered up no false alarms.
In total, 55-percent of those applications were only able to detect up to that percentage while anti-malware from 32 separate vendors was ultimately removed during testing. Unsurprisingly, most of the apps that failed, according to the source, were developed by amateur programmers while those that didn't fit in among the most reputable and oldest companies on the market.
Each test in the series involved the same process, including opening a page containing malicious sample apps in Google Chrome, downloading that, and then installing it to Android before executing the app. The firm also examined how each of the apps worked to detect malware, finding that some simply marked everything except an existing white-list of apps as potentially malicious while others that failed were buggy or incorrectly employed a scan engine from third-party providers such as McAfee.
So which antivirus software does work?
Top companies that do readily seem to detect all potential problems include those from over 20 brands, such as those from more widely known security providers Avast, AVG, Avira, Bitdefender, McAfee, Kaspersky Lab, and others. In fact, the real moral of the story told by AV-Comparatives may be that users should be wary of any brand that isn't immediately recognizable, regardless of what an apps reviewers might say — especially where offerings from widely lauded brands are available already.
Vigilance should extend beyond security apps too since even well-known apps can have either privacy or security problems by default or that seep in through unexpected means. One such example can be taken from the recent discovery of malicious adware that infected dozens of apps before those were pulled from the Google Play Store. That may have affected as many as 150 million users. Some of those apps had been downloaded more than ten million times before being caught.
In addition to downloading a well-respected and well-trialed antivirus or anti-malware, users should pay close attention to the permissions an app claims to require as well as whether any negative or positive reviews point to suspicious app activity.
Pointing to a bigger problem in app markets
Although none of the recognized top-brands for antivirus or security software appear to have been included in those that fell below the 99-percent mark, that's in stark contrast to the number of overall apps that utterly failed. That highlights what may be a much larger problem with smartphones in general, rather than one that's specific to Android or the Google Play Store.
There may be too many apps available to users, making it nearly impossible to vet them well enough but that's not necessarily the problem. Google has removed millions of applications over the past several years, a trend that's matched by Apple for iOS, with any app that violates policies being removed. AV-Comparisons points to the fact that all of the apps in question do protect against at least some malicious software.
The problem is that there doesn't seem to be a threshold with regard to what an acceptable level of protection is. There's no way to make any system completely secure short of cutting off all connectivity options and removing all other ways to transfer data to and from associated devices. With a large majority of the applications on app stores being developed by under-experienced developers — especially with regard to security experience — the only real solution lies with Google and other companies hosting app markets.
Not only will users need to be more wary of apps as the market continues to flourish. Those companies must continue working to ensure that the market and the ecosystem apps are built for is as secure as possible and that developers are playing along.