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Android antivirus products a big flop, researchers say

Northwestern, NC State don't like what they see in 10 most popular Android anti-malware tools

By , Network World
June 06, 2013 04:56 PM ET

Network World - Android smartphones and tablets are under attack, and the most popular tools developed to protect them are easily circumvented, according to new research from Northwestern University and the University of North Carolina.

The researchers created technology called DroidChamelon that can be used to perform common obfuscation techniques (simple switches in a virus' binary code or file name, for instance) to blow by security products. It tested DroidChamelon with products from the likes of AVG, Kaspersky, ESET, Symantec and Webroot.

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Details about the research can be seen in a paper titled "Evaluating Android Anti-Malware Against Transformation Attacks." 

"The results are quite surprising," said Yan Chen, associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science (Vaibhav Rastogi, a Ph.D. candidate at Northwestern, and Xuxian Jeng of North Carolina State University, co-authored the work with Chen). "Many of these products are blind to even trivial transformation attacks not involving code-level changes -- operations a teenager could perform."

These products are not as robust and effective as they must be to stop malware writers. This is a cat-and-mouse game."

The products' downfall was due to their use of overly simple content-based signatures, said researchers, who recommended more widespread use of static analysis to sniff out transformed viruses. Though the good news is that last year 45% of signatures could be evaded easily, whereas only 16% could be this time around.

Attackers are going after Android because it is so widely used. Kaspersky estimates more than 94% of all mobile malware targets Android. 

Even so, the researchers at Northwestern and NC State emphasized that other mobile OSes are all aren't necessarily any more protected from virus attacks. The researchers just didn't test them.

Bob Brown tracks network research in his Alpha Doggs blog and Facebook page, as well on Twitter and Google +.

Read more about security in Network World's Security section.

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