Android

Some important facts about Android antivirus applications

With the increase of Android malware, you have nothing to lose by installing an Android anti-virus application. Let Michael Kassner help you find which one is right for you.

 

android-marching-malware.jpg
 

Depending on which side of the fence you stand, Android anti-virus (AV) apps are a waste of time or they’re absolutely necessary. I prefer to error on the side of caution, especially when it doesn’t cost anything.

If you're wondering why I say there’s no cost, that’s because independent testing facilities, including AV-TEST GmbH say there is little difference between the paid and free versions of Android AV apps regarding their ability to locate malware on mobiles devices.

AV-TEST can say that because, every four months, they round up all major Android AV apps and put them through their paces. For some time now, their testing has shown that both versions work equally well when protecting mobile devices. The paid versions are such because of additional features like backing up data, locating devices, and locking stolen phones.

Performance issues

Another point of controversy I often read about is “Android AV apps affect performance.” Not according to AV-TEST, and their engineers monitor device performance during testing in the following categories: battery life, processing speed, and RF traffic levels. 

Figure A

Figure A
AV-TEST performance testing.

Of all the applications tested, only two did not have a clean slate: one app caused abnormal battery drain, and one generated too much traffic.

So, hopefully you're now convinced that there's nothing to lose by installing an Android AV application on your mobile device. All that’s left is to choose which one.

Which app is right for me?

When deciding which of the free apps to pick, AV-TEST can help. The company’s November-December 2013 test results compare 28 of the most popular AV apps for Android, rating each in usability and quality of protection. One AV app that is curiously missing is Lookout. I've sent AV-TEST an email asking why, as Lookout is arguably one of the top three most popular Android AV applications (see update below).

For those who have installed an AV app or are now thinking about it, we need to look at a quirk in the Android operating system and how it affects AV applications.

Android AV apps are not like Windows AV software

Many people are under the assumption that Android AV apps work just like Windows AV software, and that’s a misconception we need to clear up. But first, the similarities: like Windows AV software, Android AV apps block URLs, scan downloads for malware, and identify malware installed on mobile devices.

Now the difference: do not expect Android AV applications to remove malware or to place malware into quarantine. Android AV apps can't do that. Android, the operating system, treats malware like any other application by isolating it using a process called sandboxing.

This means the user needs to remove malware manually, by first locating the malware in the Application section of the device’s System Manager, then opening the malware app’s statistics page, and tapping uninstall (Figure B).

Figure B

 

Figure B
 

You must manually uninstall the malware application.  

The bottom line

Remember to uninstall any application that an Android AV app pegs as malware. If it’s not removed, the malicious app will continue to function, regardless of the fact the AV app is aware of the installed malware. 

Update: Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-TEST GmbH, answered my email right at deadline. I’ll let him explain why Lookout was not tested: 

“Lookout requested to opt-out from this specific test. I'm not entirely sure about the reasons, e.g. if they had issues with our tests, the test procedures or sample selection, or if they are preparing a new product and want to join again after it gets available.”

Marx also included an incentive (Figure C) for those who are still unconvinced that Android AV applications are important.

Figure C

 

Figure C
 

Number of Android malware.

In 2013 alone, AV-TEST registered 1.5 million Android-related malware samples, bringing the total to 1.8 million. During November of 2013, AV-TEST received 6,000 new samples per day. 

What AV application do you use on your Android device? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.

 

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43 comments
th3technical
th3technical

Well well about smartphone I ve seen alot about iPhone6 images online on www.th3technical.com for the followers of iPhone 6 come up guys see news

Kevin Herrick
Kevin Herrick

I am currently using AVG and was using Dr. Web Lite. Would anyone mind telling me why Avast or Lookout is better for droid? I am more into the server, routers and workstation arena and know i dont advise avast for pc. Thanks a bunch.

RobertMoore12
RobertMoore12

I can tell you why Lookout was not included. It caused a serious battery drain. You could literally watch your battery die after installing. I used to have it on a Blackberry and it was great there but I wish I had read the reviews on Lookout and Android. I would NOT have installed it. I uninstalled it because of the serious battery drain.

jjvolk
jjvolk

Avira free Antivirus on my HTC Droid DNA phone. Same on my windows computer.

jesmor77
jesmor77

I use Avast as in my computer. It works.

carbonman
carbonman

I use Malwarebytes.  It works well in Windows so I downloaded it to my phone.  No problems so far.  

cpguru21
cpguru21

currently running Avast, because of the faith I have in the product on windows computers.  Have not encountered an infection on my phone though as of yet.


But I also don't install anything because of the stupid access most apps request.

simonschilder
simonschilder

I use Eset, the paid version.

And last week I tried to install a rpn calculator. Eset immediately flagged it as malware! First time it did that..

I haven't noticed any decrease in performance or battery life


T3CHN0M4NC3R
T3CHN0M4NC3R

None permanently. I install antivirus apps on my phone from time to time for the sake of scanning then uninstall after scanning completes. Never found anything. I've also tried MiUi (Android modified in China) on my HTC One X and apparently it has built-in antivirus. Can't say it's good or bad as I've never encounter any virus on my phones and don't have the proper setup to test them out.

alderran
alderran

How is it possible for an app to run without consuming battery.  That sounds like magic to me.

Rick Munn
Rick Munn

Oww seriously! Because of some product that I have now on my pc, it took me over thirty minutes to order from Pizza Hut!

Lolovivi
Lolovivi

I'm using AVG and an app called "Clueful."

Anti Fanboy
Anti Fanboy

Lookout has been good for me.  It also takes pics of anyone typing the password wrong 5 times.  It also locates it's last location if you lose it.

joetron2030
joetron2030

I use Lookout, too.


Interesting that they opted out of the testing. I would like to hear/see Lookout's reasons why. Mostly out of curiosity.

Brandon Holbrook
Brandon Holbrook

avast! antivirus is what I use! Great smartphone security app.

frylock
frylock

@RobertMoore12 Similar experience with Lookout, though I think I'd say "noticeable" instead of "serious" battery drain. Works fine for about a week, then I notice my battery lower than it should be at the end of the day. Lookout is always the top consumer. Reboot is the only workaround I've found so far. I may ditch it as well.

knuthf
knuthf

@jesmor77 Be careful of Windows malware software. Android is Linux and a file cannot execute like on Windows. A jpeg file that contains code, is just a picture, it cannot execute nor install anything. I use "TrustGo" on my phone, but see if "Clam" exists. This is open source software that monitor activity. Java code that executes in the browser, has very limited rights - and the "backdoor" access (using 127.0.0.1 as a "server") ends up in a well protected part of the file system. 


Any company that delivers for Windows, e.g. Symantec and Norton, do not have the skills needed to deliver on Android, Linux or Mac. The article is not correct, because the journalist is a journalist and not technically skilled.

knuthf
knuthf

@cpguru21 Existence on Window disqualifies the software on Android.

The operating systems as fundamentally different - no code downloaded can be installed (as the article claims) or executed. A picture is a picture, and cannot execute. Security is also set to protect email and internet downloaded files - the security is provided by Android, and trojans are in the web-browser while you have the page open. Kil the window, and the code is gone.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

@alderran 


Good point. I am fairly certain that AV-Test meant excessively. Antimalware apps typically use more battery power as they are working in the background. 

knuthf
knuthf

@Anti Fanboy -- have you tried Google? Log in on your account, and they will tell you where the phone is lost. Big brother knows close to everything soon.

Michael Kassner
Michael Kassner

Interesting, Charles


I have yet to experience an infection on Android. Can you please tell us about it? 

Aragorn7
Aragorn7

Webroot Secure Anywhere -- If it's as good as its reputation on Windows, then WSA is a winner! 

cpguru21
cpguru21

@knuthf @cpguru21 Thanks for your thoughts.  I am not sure what from my post makes you think I do not understand the difference between the desktop world and the mobile world.  Also I am not sure how exactly existing on Windows disqualifies the software on Android.


Avast actually scored pretty high if you refer to the links, instead of assuming I am just a consumer who has no idea what I am talking about.


I simply have faith in Avast as a company, because of my familiarity with their desktop software.  In turn, I also trust their mobile app.


In fact I would go as far to say that BECAUSE it exists in windows, it qualifies it as a trusted source on my mobile phone.


Thanks for the thoughts though.

knuthf
knuthf

@Michael Kassner @alderran An "app" that does not execute just allocate space in memory / sdcard. The virus will not run on Android as on Windows.  Since the memory consumes battery, and not the bit-setting, there is no consumption by an app that does not execute.