Android antivirus products a big flop, researchers say

Android smartphones and tablets are under attack, but the most popular tools developed to protect them are easily circumvented

Android smartphones and tablets are under attack, but 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's binary code or file name, for example) to blow by security products. It tested DroidChamelon with products from AVG, Kaspersky, Eset, Symantec, and Webroot.

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"The results are quite surprising," said Yan Chen, an 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, coauthored 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."

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. The good news is that in 2012 tests, 45 percent of signatures could be evaded easily, whereas only 16 percent could be this time around.

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

Even so, the researchers at Northwestern and North Catolina 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 wide area network in Network World's Wide Area Network section.

This story, "Android antivirus products a big flop, researchers say" was originally published by Network World.


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