Android antivirus freeware 'near to useless'

Free antivirus apps on Google's Android Market not as effective as paid apps, with some failing completely at detecting popular malware, study finds.
Written by Liau Yun Qing, Contributor

Free antivirus apps published on Google's Android Market are popular with consumers despite their inability to detect malware and were "near to useless", new study revealed, which endangers users who use and trust these apps.

According to a study released last Thursday, German security institute AV-Test said out of the seven popular free antivirus it tested--namely Zoner AntiVirus Free, Bluepoint Antivirus Free, Kinetoo Malware Scan, Privateer Lite, Antivirus Free by Creative Apps, GuardX Antivirus and LabMSF Antivirus betat--only Zoner AntiVirus Free achieved a "respectable result" in detecting 8 of 10 malware samples.

Another three--BluePoint, Kinetoo and Privateer Lite--managed to catch one malicious app while the rest failed completely, the report noted.

By comparision, the two paid antivirus apps tested--F-Secure Mobile Security and Kaspersky Mobile Security--spotted at least 50 percent of all malware samples, it added.

The malware samples were used because they were the most frequently identified virus picked up by the institute's analysis system, which uses 30 scanners to analyze the installation packages, AV-Test stated. The apps were run on a Samsung Galaxy Tab running Android 2.2.1 for the test. Quoting figures from Google, the report stated that 45.3 percent of total devices run on Android Froyo 2.2 as of Oct. 3, 2011.

"The number of installations, which is given on the Android Market Web site, shows that many users trust these free apps, although they do not offer a reliable protection," said the report's co-authors Hendrik Pilz and Steffen Schindler.

Among the free antivirus tested, Antivirus Free had the most installed base, which stands at between 1,000,000 and 5,000,000, and was rated 4.5 out of 5 based on 41,375 ratings by users. Even the two with the least installed base of between 1,000 and 5,000--LabMSF and Privateer Lite--were rated 4.3 out of 16 ratings and 4.5 out of 28 ratings, respectively.

Both Pilx and Schindler spoke out against downloading these freeware however, saying it endangers users.

"The circulation of obviously near to useless security apps endangers those who trust them and install [these] apps from third-party app markets without further suspicion," they stressed.

One Android user ZDNet Asia spoke to, Max Yam, admitted he had not installed any antivirus on his Android handset, adding that the awareness of antivirus for mobile phones is still low.

The Singapore-based designer also said while he is not sure if free Android antivirus are less secure, he would purchase an antivirus software if it costs less than US$5.

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