Will Your Antivirus Software Fail You?
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.
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...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 29 Sep 2023
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Will Your Antivirus Software Fail You? (Posted: 29 Sep 2023)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved