Google Play Protect detects only 31% of Android stalkerware

Edward G. | July 28, 2021

Data presented by the Atlas VPN research team reveals that Android’s internal Google Play Protect service detects only 31% of stalkerware threats.

Stalkerware, sometimes known as spyware, is a set of tools (apps or software programs) that allow someone else (such as an abuser) to monitor and record your phone behavior.

This means that the fraudster can gather all the sensitive information that you type on your phone, like login credentials to your email address, banking applications, or even personal identifying information, like SSNs, home addresses, and so on.

AV-Test, an independent research institute running for more than 15 years, ran a test on the most popular security applications to see which ones perform the best in terms of spyware detections on Android devices. Each security application had to detect 29 unique stalkerware threats. The analysis was carried out in July 2021. 

Shockingly, by far, the worst results were from the native Google Play Protect application, as it only detected 9 threats out of 29, which constitutes a success rate of 31%. 

One might argue that it is still a decent result, given that the application is free of charge, and comes built-in to all Android devices. Yet, some of the applications evaluated are free of charge as well. The best performers like Bitdefender, Trend Micro, ESET, and Kaspersky charge a small licensing fee, usually around $10 per year for 1 device.

The second-worst result was shown by NortonLifeLock Norton 360 security software. It caught only 17 out of 29 spyware apps, a detection rate of 58.6%. 

Next up are three less-known security companies, whose detection rates hover around 70%. These are Line Antivirus (72.4%), Ikarus (79.3%), and AhnLab V3 Mobile Security (79.3%). 

Now, let’s jump to the other side of the list to look at the best-performing software. Three applications got a perfect score of 100%, which means that they detected all 29 stalkerware threats. At the top of the list, we see Antiy AVL, Bitdefender Mobile Security, and Trend Micro Mobile Security. 

Fourth and fifth place goes to ESET Mobile Security and Kaspersky Internet Security for Android. These services failed to detect only a single threat, giving them an almost perfect score of 96.6%. 

To sum up the results, the test reveals that a well-known brand name is not necessarily the best choice when it comes to malware protection. In this case, the most popular antivirus software performed the worst. 

Android users who depend on the native Google Play Protect service to fight against spyware should consider getting one of the more effective antivirus applications.

Noticing and protecting against stalkerware

On an Android device, there are often early warning indications that something isn't quite right. Examples of abnormalities include unusual battery drain and slower application performance, increased data usage, and interruptions or noises during phone calls.

On the other hand, these are signs that your device is infected, and it will not be helpful to figure out which application actually caused the intrusion. To figure out where the issue lies, you will need to turn to security software. 

When you do, make sure that you scan your device with the strictest scan settings possible, as many applications allow you to choose between a “fast” or a “full” scan. 

Finally, it is best to avoid any third-party App Stores. Even though Google Play Store or Apple App Store is not guaranteed to have virus-free applications, their security measures are much better than most others on the internet.

To know more about the current cybersecurity landscape, be sure to check our Cybercrime Statistics.

Edward G.

Edward G.

Cybersecurity Researcher and Publisher at Atlas VPN. My mission is to scan the ever-evolving cybercrime landscape to inform the public about the latest threats.



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