Are Free Android Virus Scanners Any Good?

So goes the provocative headline from the AV-Test IT Security Institute who have just released a new report on the effectiveness of free Android antivirus scanners.

They tested 7 free Android virus scanners with varying popularity (from 1,000 up to 5 million installations) and with a variety of Android Market ratings then compared them against two commercial products from well known security specialists Kaspersky and F-Secure.

The full report is in non-techie language and an easy read. The tests are split into 2 parts – scanning the device for existing malware and real-time guard functionality (warning the user upon installation of malicious apps):

Manual Scan For Existing Malware

  • The best results were the commercial products of Kaspersky and F-Secure – detected at least 50% malicious apps.
  • The best free app was Zoner AntiVirus Free with 32% detected malicious apps.
  • All other scanners detected 10% of the apps at best, some didn’t detect anything at all :-(

Real-time Guard Protection

  • Commercial products of F-Secure and Kaspersky detected all 10 test threats.
  • Zoner AntiVirus Free was the only free app with a respectable result. It detected 8 out of 10 threats.
  • BluePoint AntiVirus Free, Kinetoo Malware Scan and Privateer Lite only warned against 1 malicious app.
  • Antivirus Free by Creative Apps, GuardX Antivirus and LabMSF Antivirus beta failed completely, not warning against any of the 10 threats.

Conclusion

Popularity appears to offer no reliable indication of a product’s usefulness: Antivirus Free by Creative Apps is by far the most popular of the free scanners with between 1 and 5 million installations and yet it failed to spot a single threat in either test!

Whilst the only useful free product was Zoner’s AntiVirus Free which has only 50,000 – 100,000 users…

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the best protection was offered by commercial software from Kaspersky and F-Secure. This tallies with the results of security suites produced for computers – the best free products are still a long way off the protection of the best commercial products (though they often surpass the worst commercial products)

We would not suggest relying totally on just one set of test results from a single source but it could be argued that the wide circulation of virtually useless free security apps endangers those who trust them and install apps from 3rd party app markets.

3 Responses to: "Are Free Android Virus Scanners Any Good?"

  1. Shari says:

    I might have missed it, but did they review https://www.mylookout.com/ ? I have it and like it but not sure how it rates, other than Reviews on Droid Marketplace

    • admin says:

      Hi Shari, no they didn’t include Lookout which is popular (c 250,000 installs) – would be interesting to see how it compared (using the same tests) against Zoner AntiVirus Free, the best free AV in the review.

      Popularity and Marketplace reviews have their place in terms of usability/errors but don’t seem very credible in terms of protection – a lot of the comments show that people are actually using the other features (e.g. lockdown/locate if stolen etc) more than the AV features which makes sense as viruses are only slowly becoming more of an issue on Android, but likely to grow rapidly :-(

  2. Gary Bart says:

    Beware of Google App Store “App” Apps to SD Card. Causes intermittant red border flashing and malware reporting.

    Lookout Mobile Security, nor APK anti Virus Bodyguard detected anything.

    Zoner AntiVirus Free Detected the “Apps to SD Card [Containing Malware, casuing red border flashing ] deleted the threat, and all red border flashing stopped immediatly.

    Highly Recommend “Zoner AntiVirus Free”