Android anti-virus products put to the test – which are the best at stopping new malicious apps?

Ok, Google. That’s not good.

Android anti-virus products put to the test – which received the highest score?

If there’s one clear message you can take away from the latest real-world test of Android security products, it’s that relying upon Google to protect your smartphone isn’t really good enough.

Independent anti-malware testing lab AV-Test pitted 17 Android security apps, including Android’s own built-in Google Play Protect, against nearly 6,700 malicious apps.

3,300 of the malicious apps were considered “totally new” – having been discovered in the previous 24 hours. The remainder of the malware, described as the “reference set”, was compromised of what AV-Test described as “particularly widespread apps that have already been in circulation for up to four weeks.”

AV-Test chart

Six of the 17 apps tested (Antiy AVL, Bitdefender Mobile Security, Cheetah Security Master, Norton 360, Trend Micro Mobile Security, and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android) achieved a perfect real-time detection rate of 100% against the “totally new” malicious apps and the additional reference set.

The apps from AhnLab, G Data and McAfee performed admirably too – detecting 99.9% in the real-time detection test, and a perfect score against the reference test set

But Google’s Play Protect fell far behind with just a 37% detection rate against the new malicious apps seen in the past 24 hours, and 33% against Android malware seen in the preceding four weeks.

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To make things even worse, Google Play Protect incorrectly false alarmed on 30 harmless apps – misidentifying them as malicious.

As AV-Test explains, the message is pretty clear for Android users who want to reduce the chances of malicious apps running on their smartphone:

“As the detection rates of Google Play Protect are really quite poor, the use of a good security app is highly recommended.”

What’s worrying about that is, in my experience, most Android users haven’t installed a security app onto their phone – perhaps assuming that it’s not necessary, or more trouble than it’s worth.

Despite these disappointing results for Google Play Protect, it’s worth remembering that one of the best things Android users can do to reduce their exposure to malicious apps is to only install apps from the official Google Play marketplace rather than side-load apps from third-party sources.

Graham Cluley is an award-winning keynote speaker who has given presentations around the world about cybersecurity, hackers, and online privacy. A veteran of the computer security industry since the early 1990s, he wrote the first ever version of Dr Solomon's Anti-Virus Toolkit for Windows, makes regular media appearances, and is the co-host of the popular "Smashing Security" podcast. Follow him on Twitter, Mastodon, Threads, Bluesky, or drop him an email.

16 comments on “Android anti-virus products put to the test – which are the best at stopping new malicious apps?”

  1. Matt

    I tried installing a few of these apps and I'm not sure I see a difference between Trend Micro's or BitDefender's data collection policies and the apps they're protecting you from. And we all know about Cheetah Mobile's abuses. Are these apps preventing data leaks or simply eliminating the competition?

  2. Matt2

    What about Sophos (free) and ESET (paid for)?

    1. Eswan · in reply to Matt2

      What about LOOKOUT also?

  3. antuketot76

    There is typo error on title above "malicious"

    1. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to antuketot76

      Whoops! Now fixed. Thanks!

  4. Jason Balsa

    How have you guys not tested eSet?

    1. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to Jason Balsa

      I'm not the guy who tested the products. conducted the test.

  5. Shaf01

    Agree with several other comments. ESET and Lookout really should be included in these sort of tests. I'm not sure why they are so often neglected. Particularly when there are so many other no-name or questionable security tools that make these lists.

    1. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to Shaf01

      You should ask the vendors and/or

      I believe it's the case that sometimes vendors choose not to submit their products for testing. That may not necessarily be because they expect their products to perform poorly – they may have other reasons.

  6. Colin Keenan

    Why no bullguard review

    1. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to Colin Keenan

      See the answer I gave above. You should ask Bullguard why they weren't included. It may be that they didn't submit their product for testing.

  7. Mal Bytes

    What about Malwarebytes?

  8. Olufemi Ake

    The test is incomplete without ESET included. Please inform the testers. :)

    1. Graham CluleyGraham Cluley · in reply to Olufemi Ake

      I'm sure the testers know that ESET wasn't included. ESET is included in some of AV-Test's other tests, so I imagine that for some reason ESET chose not to submit their product for inclusion in the Android test.

  9. Margaret Robinson

    I use AVG antivirus app.cause problems

    In Android phone, I uninstall app. Google play protect is it safe to have? Someone using my phone installing Unknown apps. can't open uninstall them.

    Limited mobile data some one else is using mine not in use.

    Do anybody believe me? Thank you.

  10. Enrique Romero

    The first one, AVL, has not been updated since 2018

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