Is Your Smartphone Really Safe? A Wake-up Call on Android Antivirus Software Effectiveness

Andrea Piccione, Giorgio Bernardinetti, Alessandro Pellegrini, and Giuseppe Bianchi

Published in: Proceedings of the 2023 Italian Conference on Cybersecurity
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A decade ago, researchers raised severe concerns about Android smartphones’ security by extensively assessing and recognising the limitations of Android antivirus software. Considering the significant increase in the economic role of smartphones in recent years, we would expect that security measures are significantly improved by now. To test this assumption, we conducted a relatively extensive study to evaluate the effectiveness of off-the-shelf antivirus software in detecting malicious applications injected into legitimate Android applications.
We specifically repackaged seven widely used Android applications with 100 obfuscated malware instances. We submitted the 700 samples to the VirusTotal web portal, testing the effectiveness of the over 70 free and commercial antiviruses available in detecting them.
For the obfuscation part, we intentionally employed publicly available tools that could be used by “just” a tech-savvy adversary. We used a combination of well-known and novel (but still simple) obfuscation techniques. Surprisingly (or perhaps unsurprisingly?), our findings indicate that almost 76% of the samples went utterly undetected. Even when our samples were detected, this occurred for a handful (never more than 4) of Android antivirus software available on VirusTotal. This lack of awareness of the effectiveness of Android antivirus is critical because the false sense of security given by antivirus software could prompt users to install applications from untrusted sources, allowing attackers to install a persistent threat within another application easily.

BibTeX Entry:

author = {Piccione, Andrea and Bernardinetti, Giorgio and Pellegrini, Alessandro and Bianchi, Giuseppe},
title = {Is Your Smartphone Really Safe? A Wake-up Call on Android Antivirus Software Effectiveness},
booktitle = {Proceedings of the 2023 Italian Conference on Cybersecurity},
year = {2023},
month = may,
publisher = {},
series = {ITASEC},
location = {Bari, Italy}