Will Your Antivirus Software Fail You?

Category: Anti-Virus

The latest report from AV-Test, an independent anti-virus testing lab, has some surprising results. Is your favorite Internet Security tool on the list of the top 16 products tested? Read on for my assessment of this report...

Which Antivirus Products Offer the Best Protection?

AV-Test analyzed sixteen popular security software packages for Windows, and rated them on Protection, Performance, and Usability. Each of those categories could receive a maximum score 6 points. Interestingly, eight of those products received a perfect score of 18 points. But that's not really the most important takeaway.

In that top scoring group were Avast Free Antivirus , AVG Internet Security, Avira Security for Windows, Kaspersky Standard, McAfee Total Protection, Microsoft Defender, Norton 360, Trend Micro Internet Security. Other products that received a perfect 6.0 score for Protection (arguably the most important factor for a security tool) were AhnLab V3, Bitdefender Internet Security, Microworld eSCan, and PC Matic. F-Secure SAFE, Malwarebytes Premium, and Protected.net Total AV, each scored 5.5, and K7 Computing Total Security brought up the rear with a 5.0 score.

Each product was tested for Protection in two phases. First, the "real-world test" involved throwing several hundred "zero-day" malware samples at each of the would-be defenders. Zero-day malware refers to a vulnerability discovered shortly before the test, with the assumption that the security products would not yet have built-in protection for that specific attack. In the real-world test, the hope is that the built-in defenses of a security tool would be able to detect and defend against a newly discovered zero-day malware sample.

antivirus test results

Perfection in this phase indicates that a product has the smarts to recognize heretofore unseen threats, in the same way that the human "innate" immune system defends against newly emerging viruses. The good news is that in the May 2023 test, thirteen of the sixteen products had a zero-day detection rate of 100%. F-Secure and Malwarebytes had a 98.5% score. In June, however, Kapersky, Microsoft Defender scored 99.3% and Malwarebytes 98.6%. Depending on the size of this sample of "hundreds", that could mean users of Kapersky, Microsoft Defender and Malwarebytes were (or still are) exposed to a dozen or so dangerous zero-day attacks.

In the second phase of testing, each product was tested against a "reference set" of over 16,000 dangerous and currently circulating viruses, trojans and other malware. The expectation here is all of these well-known threats would be detected, with no exceptions whatsoever. In both the May and June 2023 tests, everyone scored 100%, except for Malwarebytes which blocked 99.9%. Is that a problem? Maybe... 99.9 percent of 16,000 leaves Malwarebytes Premium users exposed to 16 currently circulating cyberthreats.

What About Performance and Usability?

You might expect that with all that behind-the-scenes work computer security software tools are doing to protect users, that there would be some impact on overall system performance. AV-Test measured how systems equipped with the various security products handled tasks such as launching popular websites, opening applications, installing new software, and copying files. For all of the contenders, the AV-Test results show only the slightest impact on system performance. My belief is that NONE of this is noticeable in practical terms.

As for Usability, I'd say this is another non-issue. As it turns out, "usability" refers only to instances where the software incorrectly flagged a legit program or download. After scanning 1.3 million files, the only products that did not score a perfect 6.0 were Bitdefender, Microworld and PC Matic, each of which had only "a few" false positives.

PC Matic is often criticized in these "usability" tests, but the reason it has a slightly higher number of false positives is that it uses a "whitelist" approach, which assumes that ALL incoming files are dangerous, unless they have already been vetted and found good. I've used PC Matic for six years, and in the course of my work, I download and test a lot of software. The only files it has flagged are one 30-year-old DOS program, and a power supply monitoring tool. In both cases, I was able to click a button and allow them to proceed. If your experience is anything like mine, clicking "Allow" once every few years does not affect the usability of a program.

(RELATED: See my review of PC Matic 4.0)

Bottom line, in my humble opinion, the Performance and Usability metrics are really not important, and probably not worth considering when selecting an antivirus product. The important thing about any security tool is... Security! Does it detect well-known incoming threats and protect you? Is it nimble enough to recognize new threats and proactively block them?

Let me know if you agree. Will this AV-Test report motivate you ditch your current protection and try something else? Post your comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Will Your Antivirus Software Fail You?"

Posted by:

29 Sep 2023


Posted by:

Phil Dischert
29 Sep 2023

Bob, I'm with you on PCMatic. I've been a user for three years now and don't have a single regret.

Posted by:

Ernest N. Wilcox Jr. (Oldster)
29 Sep 2023

II have used Windows/Microsoft Defender (the Anti-malware suit that comes with Windows 10 and 11) since I started using Windows 10 in January, 2015 as a Windows Insider. I have since quit the Insider program, but that's another topic. As new security features have been added, I have enabled them when they were not enabled out of the box. To my knowledge, my system has never become infected/compromised with any malware since I got an infection way back in my early MS-DOS days when I downloaded a program from a BBS (Bulletin Board Service) in the late 1990s. During that time (late 1990s to now) my anti-malware software has alerted me that malware has been blocked/quarantined a dozen times or so. That tells me that my anti-malware software is doing its job and is keeping me safe. FYI, I keep my computer as up to date as possible, and I practice a Zero Trust/Stranger Danger paradigm regarding the Internet (Until I can confirm identities, etc., everyone on the Internet is a stranger, and everything on the Internet is developed/produced by strangers so no one and nothing there can be implicitly trusted. Before I click any link on a webpage or in an email message, I check the URL it will take me to, and if it doesn't correspond with the link's label (for a link to BestBuy, the URL should begin with 'https://bestbuy.com/ . . .') or if I can't decipher the link, I don't click it! This paradigm has helped to keep me safe on the Internet since its inception.

Back in my MS-DOS days, I used Norton Antivirus until it was bought out by Symantec. I didn't like what they were doing with it so I switched to other free offerings until Microsoft made Windows Defender available as a free download, then packaged it with Windows 10 and later 11. All the reports I have seen in the past year or two have rated Microsoft/Windows Defender among the best or as the best anti-malware suite available. As to your question "WHY AM I PAYING SO MUCH FOR THIS PRODUCT IF MICROSOFT DEFENDER DOES THE SAME JOB. SHOULD I DUMP IT AND USE DEFENDER?", that is a decision you must make for yourself. I'd say that if you are using your computer for personal use, dump Norton and switch to Microsoft Defender because it will do as good of a job for you as Norton does, and will do it for free. Note that I presume that your computer is used for personal purposes, if not, adhere to whatever your employer wants.


Ernie (Oldster)

Posted by:

Jim Eblen
29 Sep 2023

I agree completely with your reasoning. PC Matic has served me well for several years. I'll stick with them.

Posted by:

William Weaver
30 Sep 2023

I am pretty sure I have been a PC Matic user since it came on the market.
I would not use anything else!!

Posted by:

Russell Baldwin
30 Sep 2023

I am using windows antivirus/malware software(defender). My laptop builder requested I use it during my 3 year warranty period. (otherwise I think I would use PC Matic). That being said, it is free, comes with windows and its updates, gives me notifications about its scans, and I have not had any virus issues. So, Theresa, I say ditch Norton and save some $$. I agree with Ernie! And Bob... Thanks for the report!

Posted by:

Norman Rosen
30 Sep 2023

Absolutely, PC Matic is the best program. I have been using, like William, for many years and never had a problem or a virus.

Posted by:

30 Sep 2023

Can't read your articles for all the ads.

Posted by:

Ken H
30 Sep 2023

I use PC Matic on your suggestion and have no issues. I will mention that you have recommended at least one Iobit product, Advanced System Care (I seem to vaguely recall another?) and I have had to uninstall everything from Iobit more than once (it sometimes takes me longer to get it). Mostly because they are never satisfied with one program, always nagging one to upgrade or try another product. I don't need that.

Posted by:

Richard Gfeller
02 Oct 2023

Over the years, I used a variety of black-list anti-virus packages but still ended up rebuilding my computers every 2 or 3 years as they got junked-up. I started using PC Matic back when it was called PC Tools. Never have had to rebuild a computer since then. I am staying with PC Matic. White listing is the BEST!

Posted by:

02 Oct 2023

What about ZONEALARM? Some people I respect are happy with that and this is what I have been using.

Posted by:

07 Oct 2023

Thanks Bob. I have used AVG for many, many years but recently it displayed a message that it has a virus in its files & wouldn’t load. I tried to delete AVG but it said I wasn’t authorised to delete it ! This is a one user home PC running Win 7 ( still ) so I will deal with that problem later. In the meantime I scanned my system with both an online scanner and I downloaded Avast for a full scan with no problems found.
I am moving to PC Matic

Posted by:

08 Oct 2023

My local expert says Windows Defender is all that is required. I note that the analysis did not include windows defender.

I run malwarebytes premium along with windows defender and, so far, it's worked for me and hasn't overwhelmed system resources.

Posted by:

24 Dec 2023

I'm pushing into my 24th year with PCMatic. Nothing, nothing has given me any problems, had a couple of warnings, but played it safe. Not a bad record, I'll stay. 3 computers on one license, hellofa deal.

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