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Downloaded an Android antivirus lately? You might be in for a shock

When it comes to antivirus apps for Android, you need to be very careful about what you download onto your mobile device, as fresh research has pointed out just how many pieces of fake antivirus software are around – even within the walls of the official Google Play store.

Recently, we’ve seen a rash of fake apps promising protection from WannaCry – ransomware which didn’t even affect Android – and there are many similar counterfeits out there, which are useless programs at best, but can actually carry adware, or worse still malware, themselves.

Security firm RiskIQ has been totting up the numbers in its latest report, which found that searching for ‘antivirus’ across a range of Android app stores turned up some 6,295 apps.

Of those, 707 triggered blacklist detections from VirusTotal (a site which compiles warnings drawn from the major security vendors on adware or malware, or other potentially unwanted programs).

Play nice?

Focusing on just the Play store, the company found a total of 655 antivirus apps, of which 131 triggered blacklist flags. So, worryingly enough, RiskIQ observed that almost 20% of the overall blacklisted antivirus apps were present in Google’s Play store.

When it came to whittling down the numbers to antivirus apps labelled as ‘active’, the numbers weren’t quite so harsh, with a total of around 4,300 antivirus apps of which 525 triggered blacklist detections. 508 of the overall antivirus apps were in the Play store, and 55 of those were blacklisted apps. In other words, 10.8% of overall blacklisted antivirus apps which are active were found in Google’s store, a much smaller but still sizeable percentage.

At this point, it’s worth bearing in mind that not all the apps which VirusTotal marks as blacklisted will carry malware – they may not, but they might still be useless, and there’s definitely something of a risk associated with them. And obviously the more security firms that flag up a particular piece of software on VirusTotal, the greater the likely risk.

As ever, use your common sense – look out for tell-tale suspicious signs like spelling mistakes in app descriptions – and try to download from the Play store, because while it won’t eliminate any risks, it’ll certainly narrow them down. As RiskIQ observes, Google certainly removes malicious apps more efficiently than other third-party stores.

And naturally, the best policy is to download an app from a trusted brand; to that end, check out our recommendations for the best Android antivirus software.

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