Saturday, 8 October 2016

Dr.Web Light: Free Anti-Virus for Android

Over the last couple of months I have checked out several of the lighter, anti-virus only apps for Android that are available free of charge. Among the best in terms of functionality, speed and footprint - in other words truly light applications - were BitDefender and Dr. Web Light. These will be good enough for something like an Android TV box, where one doesn't need features like anti-theft, spam call or MMS protection, and arguably other devices too. Unfortunately, BitDefender does all it's malware signature checking in the cloud so in the end did not qualify for my purposes as this requires a stable connection every time running a scan. YMMV.

There is a long-standing debate going on as to whether AV is even needed on Android due to its inherent security - as long as the device has not been rooted access to the system internals should not be possible. These two articles on Techrepublic and on Androidpit should help you decide whether you want/ need virus and malware scanning. SE Linux and KNOX are providing hardened protection on modern Android devices but it all depends on your habits. I always run a scan when installing any apps and I guess it depends which sites you frequent on the internet. Just like on the PC, good hygiene and common sense go a long way to keep you safe and annoyingly blinking pop-ups off your phone (never had one of those). Although the operating system may be safe from intrusion, your personal space and information may not be.

Some websites have been cracked or booby-trapped by hackers who insert a drive-by payload in order to get in to mobile devices. A site that may be harmless to surf from a PC may be stealthily redirected to the mobile version aimed at smart phones and other mobile devices and result in various malware programs or Trojans being uploaded to your phone in the course of loading a web page. While it may not completely compromise your device at first it gives attackers a foothold on the system and, even if they do not gain admin rights, will leak highly valued personal information to them as well as possibly annoying you with a great deal of pop-up adverts and may even cost you money.

Dr. Web Light and Dr. Web Security Space are the two products for Android in the company's line-up. Light is the free version and includes basically a virus scanner, on-demand or on-access, ability to quarantine and not much else. However, that may be enough or even preferable to many users who want to use a different tool for web-filtering, ad-blocking and sms/call spam protection. It may not show a notification after scanning newly installed apps but a look in the log provides confirmation it is not sitting idle. Detection rates were better than competitors in this rare review from 2012 and in line with other products on Android have certainly improved since then. If you think the light version could be enough I've included an overview with a few screenshots to help you decide.

Home screen

The first screen is the home startup screen that shows all the functions accessible from here (pic.1). The on-access scanner called SpIDer Guard is enabled by default AFAIK but can be disabled and re-enabled with one click on the surface. It then turns orange to indicate a possibly unsatisfactory state of affairs (pic.2). Touching on the scanner button below leads to the sub-section from where virus and malware scans can be carried out (pic.3). Express scan checks only installed applications, Full scan is the option for all files and the Custom scan option allows to check specific directories, for example (pic.4). If SpIDer Guard is always enabled one shouldn't really have to do this as it constantly checks all files as they are accessed.

The fourth button on the home screen informs us about the last time virus signatures have been checked and updated. Normally the program will check several times per day as soon as there is a network connection available (again), but if for some reason this hasn't happened (or you just want to be sure and check for another update) one can manually start this from here. Statistics and Quarantine show the implied information about number of files scanned, whether any threats have been detected or files fixed (pic.5), and whether any files have been quarantined (pic.6). From here we can also reset the statistics counter or, when in Quarantine view, show the space used up by quarantined files by clicking the ribbon in the upper right (pic.7). Information and active scans show up in a pop-up window and have to be clicked away with a virtual nod, aka clicking on OK.

We'll be looking at the full, commercial security suite from Dr.Web next time.

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