Android malware
Some malware families are designed to attack Android devices. GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP/Getty Images

Two-thirds of all Android antivirus apps are useless and fail to detect malware, according to an expert study by an Austrian organization that is specialized in testing antivirus products.

The report by AV-Comparatives was prepared after rigorous testing of 250 Android antivirus apps on the Google Play Store.

The report noted the irony of many antiviruses apps proving themselves as malware as a commentary on the pathetic state of affairs in the Android antivirus industry.

According to an analyst, there are more snake-oilers in the Android app market than serious cyber-security vendors.

The test was conducted on a Samsung S9 phone exposing Android apps to 2,000 odd commonplace Android malware threats of 2018. It tried to check whether the security apps could show a red flag on such malware.

The report said out of 250 apps tested, only 80 qualified the basic benchmark of 30 percent detection of malware during individual tests.

According to AV-Comparatives 170 of the 250, Android antivirus apps failed the basic tests and turned out to be a sham.

“Most of the above apps, as well as the risky apps already mentioned, have been developed either by amateur programmers or by software manufacturers not focused on the security business,” the AV-Comparatives staff noted.

The report noted that only 23 Android apps were able to detect all the 100 percent malware samples.

Some of them wrongly flagged clean files as bad. It was found that many of the antivirus apps instead of scanning the apps, simply used a whitelist/blacklist approach based on package names than relying on the code for deciding whether an app is dangerous or harmless.

Some antivirus apps would mark any app installed on a user's phone as malicious if the app's package name was not matching its whitelist.

“With such samples, detection rates of between 90 percent and 100 percent should be easily achieved by genuine and effective antimalware apps,” AV-Comparatives said in its report.

Top performing vendors

In the test, the top-performing vendors included Avast, ESET, F-Secure, Kaspersky Lab, McAfee, Bitdefender among others.

Another paradox was that most of the 250 apps tested were enjoying a score of 4 and above on the Google Play Store reviews.

Past studies have confirmed that hackers use fake antivirus apps to fool unassuming users into downloading malware to their devices. AV-Comparatives is recommending that consumers ought to be vigilant and use only products of well-known vendors.