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Android mobile security: What's the best bet?

Earlier this week, the independent testing lab AV-Test released its findings from a comprehensive review of 22 Android security apps, looking at how these portable protectors performed on Android devices. The competition was tight, but TrustGo and Lookout took the top slots.

The good news is that most apps fared very well in the test, with only GFI Mobile Security failing to receive AV-Test certification. Despite GFI's abysmal 71 per cent detection rate for malicious software, the average detection rate across the apps was 94 per cent, with a median rate of 97 per cent. In general, there were very few false-positive results generated during the test.

The whole app

Of course, security companies no longer rely on mere malware identification to define their product. Many companies provide anti-theft, secure browsing, parental controls, and data encryption with their mobile apps. What's more, mobile security apps need to be unobtrusive and easy on battery life in order to actually be helpful. If it sucks up too much power, or disrupts the normal operation of the device, users will likely uninstall the app.

To that end, AV-Test devised a complex and multi-tiered testing methodology which not only took battery life into account, but also the user experience as well as malware detection, along with extra features that the app offered.

Interestingly, AV-Test determined how the anti-malware apps affected battery life by looking at their CPU usage.

AV-Test wrote: “Our approach is to measure the CPU time used by the Anti-Malware while known clean apps from Google Play are installed on an Android device. The Anti-Malware’s real-time protection feature will check the newly installed apps for malware and it will therefore consume CPU time.”

AV-Test believes that this methodology is solid, but does concede that environmental factors – such as temperature – might skew the results slightly.

Security testing

To test the security apps, AV-Test also used an impressively large sample set of malicious software: 850 to 1000 samples comprising 20 different families of malware. The company also tested for false-positive detection by using clean apps from the Google Play store. In each test AV-Test used an SD card pre-loaded with malware samples, and performed a full system scan. Any undetected samples were accessed to gauge the software's real-time protection capabilities.

The company recorded the percentage of malware detected, along with pluses and minuses for extra features and impact on the user, to deliver a total score. This is critical because, as the test showed, most security software already scores very highly in malware detection.

AV-Test requires a minimum of 8 points to receive certification. While TrustGo Mobile Security topped the list with 13 points and a 100 per cent malware detection rate, it was closely followed by Lookout Antivirus & Security at 12.5 points. Trend Micro Mobile Security and Symantec Mobile Security also did very well with 12 points. Though they scored less at 11.5 points – which is still very respectable – both Bitdefender Mobile Security and Antiy AVL maintained an impressive 100 per cent malware detection rate.

You can see the breakdown of the full results below: