Free Android Anti-Virus Apps are Proved Useless

Mike Halsey MVP
Nov 13, 2011
Updated • Mar 20, 2015
Antivirus, Google

Of all the smartphone and tablet operating systems available at the moment, the one that I simply can't recommend to people is Google Android.  Unlike Apple, Microsoft and some other companies Google don't properly screen programs that go into its app store and, as such, large amounts of malware keep getting through.

This is a real shame as it would be very easy for a company with Google's resources to manage their app store properly and bring security and peace of mind to their millions of customers.

Now though a test by AV has showed that the current batch of free anti-virus packages for Android are pretty useless.  In their tests they found that the best overall virus and malware scan result from these packages found on 32% of malware when performing a manual scan with four out of the seven packages tested finding nothing at all.

The "on installation" results were slightly better, but not by much with all but one of the packages finding only 10% of malware.

The results of the real-time guard functionality were quite shocking. The guard should warn the user upon installation of malicious apps. The 10 malware samples were chosen with the help of AV-TEST's own analysis system, which uses more than 30 virus scanners to analyze the APK files. The test set contains the 10 files, which were most often classified as malware by the virus scanners. Because of the high detection rates these files can be considered as well known and should therefore be detected by a reliable virus-scanner. Did the vendors of mobile security apps know them, too? The test results will show: Zoner AntiVirus Free was the only app with a respectable result. It detected 8 out of 10 samples during the installation attempts. BluePoint AntiVirus Free, Kinetoo Malware Scan and Privateer Lite still warned against one malicious app. Antivirus Free by Creative Apps, GuardX Antivirus and LabMSF Antivirus beta failed completely. In comparison to the free apps the commercial products of F-Secure and Kaspersky detected all threats without a problem.

The packages tested were Antivirus Free, BluePoint Antivirus Free, GuardX Antivirus, Kinetoo Malware Scan, LabMSF Antivirus beta, privateer Lite and  Zoner Antivirus Free.

Even the very best test result here of 80% for Zoner with the installation scan is well below what is considered acceptable for virus and malware protection and scores of 10% or even 0% are unheard of.

People place considerable trust in anti-virus software.  We all want to be able to trust that whatever we choose to use, we will be protected from the vast majority of malware on our devices.  On smartphones however where the handset is capable of running up huge bills for you by texting premium rate numbers, the trust we have in this software is even more important.  A significant number of people are also trusting these anti-virus apps as the report details.

The number of installations, which is given on the market website, shows that many users trust these free apps, although they do not offer a reliable protection. The by far most popular program is Antivirus Free by Creative Apps with 1,000,000 to 5,000,000 installations. The only useful free product Zoner AntiVirus Free has just 50,000 - 100,000 users. The best protection was achieved by the commercial tools of the well known security software vendors Kaspersky and F-Secure. The circulation of obviously near to useless security apps endangers those, who trust them and install apps from 3rd party app markets without further suspiciousness.

I still can't recommend Google's Android operating system because of the malware problem, no matter how usable or polished an operating it may be.  For anti-virus packages to be completely missing almost 100% of malware on the platform however just adds salt to the wounds.


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  1. Mirsad said on November 21, 2011 at 8:06 pm

    Wow! Biased much? How can you write an article about security on Android and not mention Lookout??

    1. madeline said on March 24, 2015 at 5:35 am

      Martin – I come to GHacks for facts and for thoughtful recommendations and discussion. This provides neither and it is disturbing to find it here.

  2. OblongCircles said on November 15, 2011 at 5:39 pm

    Provocative Headline? Check!
    Motivates Reader to want to know more? Check!
    Evokes reader emotion and response? Check!
    Mission Accomplished. Great writing for the reasons listed above. Unfortunately, the article does not serve any other meaningful purpose other than getting lots of page hits.

  3. Rick said on November 14, 2011 at 7:20 pm

    Once again, another article of why Mike Halsey articles should be ignored completely.

    Martin… might need to start reviewing and approving….

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on November 14, 2011 at 7:51 pm

      I look into it.

      1. Rick said on November 15, 2011 at 4:40 am

        If the idea is to invoke a discussion, I can half see the approach; this was not designed to do this – rather it has just seemed to annoy (at the least) your readers. There is an art to push buttons just enough to encourage a full discussion of a topic. Not every person is a good artist :)

  4. Dan said on November 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    This article is nothing more than an infomercial.

    Ghacks should guard its reputation better than this.

  5. Anonymous said on November 14, 2011 at 10:51 am

    First – why would I want to listen to MVP recommendation regarding my choice of mobile OS for my phone?
    Microsoft is not screening applications available for Windows 7/Windows XP either – they are just relying on the customers good sense, so does Google.

  6. Yoav said on November 14, 2011 at 10:07 am

    You could just say that you dislike android or google. We’re not stupid, as you can see…

  7. Melvin Seetoh said on November 14, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Agreed on the biasness of this article. I’ve been using an android phone for more than 2 years now and not a person I know has complained about the malware available on the android market. More important that detection and fixing at this point in time for mobile devices is the avoidance through education and more so, common sense.

  8. Devendra Mani said on November 14, 2011 at 6:29 am

    Its a pro-Microsoft bias. May be a propeganda as microsoft new os is coming with nokia soon. DONT AGREE!!!!!!!! USELESS REVIEW!!!!!!!!!!! An what about other test condducted by other firms on better products like lookout, av , symantec etc. (Lookout is free as antimalware)

  9. Dom said on November 14, 2011 at 5:36 am

    Wow, what a lame biased piece of “journalism”.

  10. Jim Carter said on November 14, 2011 at 5:31 am

    I use Lookout simply because I saw it recommended by numerous sources. I’m very picky about what I install–again seeking multiple positive reviews prior to selecting an app. Truth be told, if you surf with reckless abandon any operating system and/or security program can be breached. If perfect security existed, then everyone would be using that application and all others would cease to be.

  11. momotan said on November 14, 2011 at 2:21 am

    Don’t exist malware in Android. This is a fact, only dangerous apps, that with a little of common sense you can see. I don’t use any anti-malware apps and also don’t have any malware at all.

    Sorry but this is a very unbiased and poor article. I don’t recommend it.

  12. Ashraf said on November 13, 2011 at 10:30 pm

    Just to clarify, I am not defending Android or AVs nor am I claiming they are effective. My comment is not to judge Android or AVs. I am simply disgusted at the quality of this article and its source, or lack thereof.

  13. Ashraf said on November 13, 2011 at 10:28 pm

    I understand Mike has a pro-Microsoft bias but this is an extremely poor article quoting an extremely poor “research” study.

    Not only does the study use the most worthless AV packages – noticeably avoiding the two most popular Lookout and AVG – but it also does not give details on the files it is using. It claims to use 10 malware samples chosen by but does not elaborate on what they are.

    Very, very poor. I expected better from Ghacks.

  14. Seth said on November 13, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    So how many people have actually had problems as a result of malware on Android? If I stick with the top apps list what are the chances that I have a problem? How does Android security compare to iOS which was previously able to be jailbroken from a website?

    Sunday might be a slow news day, but reporting that a half dozen free AV apps randomly picked from the market don’t work well and then using that as a basis to condemn the whole platform is poor journalism. What about established brands like Norton, AVG, and Lookout? This site usually does better, but I guess the author was just too biased to even bother getting useful facts.

  15. Roman ShaRP said on November 13, 2011 at 10:14 pm

    Somewhat 20 years ago I had a DOS PC, 8086 clone, – and, you know, I didn’t know what is antivirus or virus at all… But that PC was usable anyway.

    Android OS now reminds me of that time. Yes, it is somewhat “Wild West”, but Wild West can be useful and pleasant too.

    Thanks BVN for the tip and good points on popular AVs for Android.

  16. BVN said on November 13, 2011 at 10:02 pm

    Interesting that the article didn’t cover the TWO MOST reviewed & downloaded apps: Lookout Security & Antivirus and AVG’s Antivirus Free, BOTH of which have 10-50 million downloads apiece, but instead chooses to review Apps that have probably less than 500k combined. Am I missing something? Awesome work AV-TEST, website I’ve never heard of.

    And why not recommend Android? Stupid users are stupid users, and they will find a way to break their toys, regardless of OS.

    1. Fabian said on November 14, 2011 at 11:08 am

      just what I was thinking… why leave out Lookout and AVG? Seems to be a pretty biased test to me. Was Apple funding the research?

      1. Morely the IT Guy said on November 14, 2011 at 7:02 pm

        @Fabian: Not Apple; Microsoft.

    2. BobbyPhoenix said on November 13, 2011 at 11:26 pm

      +1,000,000,000,000 Lookout has saved me more than once.

  17. TRY said on November 13, 2011 at 9:56 pm

    If you are a heavy surfer on Android Smartphone and have got the money then Kapersky’s mobile security is the natural choice to choose simply for its excellent 98.6% detection rate on contrary to other frivolous freebies with abysmal detection.

  18. TechLogon said on November 13, 2011 at 9:42 pm

    Agree most of the free apps are useless but this is as much a warning about rubbish free apps as Android security – the paid app (Kaspersky) detected 10 out of 10 ‘on install’ threats.

    Combine that with some common sense when choosing apps and it seems harsh to write off Android because of some bad App(le)s?

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