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Android security apps are mostly useless, says report

With the number of Android apps soaring, the threat of a malware mugging is rising -- but most Android security apps won't protect you.

If you want to protect your Android device from pilfering your pocket in a bout of Bender-esque criminality, you'll want to tighten up your handset's security. But nearly six in 10 malware protection apps for Android are, if one may employ the French vernacular, mal at detecting threats.

With over 450,000 apps now available on Google Play (aka Android Market), quadrupling since July 2010, dastardly 'Droid-damaging deeds and malicious money-making mischief is on the rise. Your phone's increasingly under threat from phishing, banking trojans, spyware, bots, root exploits, SMS fraudsters, premium dialers, fake installers and backdoor defilers (ok, I made the last one up).

Of the 41 anti-malware products tested by AV-Test recently, only 17 detected over 65 per cent of threats from the 618 types of malicious Android APK files identified. That is considered by the report's authors as being "very good" protection. Of those 17, a mere seven had a rate higher than 90 per cent.

The following apps got a gold star, a pat on the back and an interview at Oxbridge for being in the top set:

(Extra bonus points to Dr Web for being the only one to correctly spell 'Light'.)

Among the second group of 65-90 per centers were well-known PC anti-virus titles such as AVG, Norton and Trend. However, a number of those could easily move into the top group if they covered more of the 20 identified "families" of malware -- not all of which pose a critical threat.

"Some products miss the top group only due to their low detection of one or two malware families," said the report. "You can expect better signatures for these families to be added in the near future. The detection of specific families can also depend on each vendor's definition of malware. Some families might only be annoying advertisement apps."

In light of the load of duff security apps out there, the not-always-obvious threat from a malware mugging is reason enough to choose your protection carefully. "Even if Google now checks all apps on its Android Market, you should consider installing a security app, because nowadays the malware authors are able to load their malicious code after a seemingly clean app has been installed," the report added.

For a full list of all the apps tested and how they performed, click here (PDF).

Are you aware of any malpractice on your Android mobile? Do you think phone security is even worth bothering with? Let me know in the comments below or on Facebook.