Android's new built-in antivirus program, Google Play Protect, just had its first big test — and it has failed miserably.
In the latest round of Android antivirus tests conducted by independent German lab AV-TEST, Google's in-house antivirus product stopped only 65.8 percent of brand-new malware, and just 79.2 percent of four-week-old malware. Most of the 20 other products tested scored more than 99 percent in both categories.
It was the first time AV-TEST had put Google Play Protect through its paces. We had hoped the built-in AV could hold its own against the competition, but until these dismal results improve, you're just going to have to use third-party AV solutions to protect your Android device.
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Google Play Protect was quietly introduced this past summer to Android devices running Google Play, Gmail and other Google apps. It bundles together existing features such as Android Device Manager, now called Find My Device, and the old Verify Apps malware scanner that checks all apps installed on a device, whether they came from Google Play or not.
The difference is that Google Play protect is much more visible than its predecessors, and even has a progress circle to show the user that it's scanning for malware. (Some Android devices, such as Amazon's Fire line, won't get Google Play Protect because they don't normally run Google apps.)
Overall, anything that improves Android security is a good thing. Many Android users don't have any antivirus software installed, so Google Play Protect serves as a backstop.
But so far, it's not a very good backstop. Even the second-worst Android AV product that AV-TEST looked at — in this case, Droid-X 3, a Korean-language app made by NHSC — did much better than Google Play Protect, stopping 82.4 percent of new malware and 93.5 percent of old malware.
In other words, the built-in Android antivirus protection let in twice as much malware as the worst third-party product. Google Play Protect did so badly that AV-TEST gave it a zero out of 6 in malware protection. That is not a very good start for Google Play Protect.
We can only hope that Google Play Protect improves — a lot. There's some precedence for this: Microsoft's Windows Defender has become much better at stopping malware since it was first built into Windows 8 in 2012. It was once terrible, but Windows Defender now rivals all but the very best third-party Windows antivirus products.
Until then, install and run one of the 15 Android antivirus products that scores 99 percent or better in both malware categories that AV-TEST used. Our own favorites are Bitdefender Mobile Security, Norton Mobile Security and Avast Mobile Security —you can't go wrong with any of those.
Best Android Antivirus Software
Bitdefender Mobile Security
You'll have to pay $15 per year for Bitdefender Mobile Security, but its excellent malware protection and intuitive user interface make it well worth paying for.
Norton Mobile Security
Norton Mobile Security may seem pricey, but its excellent protection, multidevice license and unique privacy features make it a worthwhile investment.
Avast Mobile Security
Avast Mobile Security has solid malware protection, but some of its many features don't work well.