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8/17/2010
03:24 PM
George V. Hulme
George V. Hulme
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Anti-Virus Suite Protection? Not Much

It's no secret that anti-virus software doesn't do much to protect you against new and rapidly moving viruses, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that these suites don't do much good defending you against exploit code, either. A fresh evaluation from NSS Labs reveals just how vulnerable you really are.

It's no secret that anti-virus software doesn't do much to protect you against new and rapidly moving viruses, so it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that these suites don't do much good defending you against exploit code, either. A fresh evaluation from NSS Labs reveals just how vulnerable you really are.One of the reasons I've always taken interest in NSS Labs reports is because they are independently conducted and not funded by the security firms tested. In this report, NSS Labs tested the leading corporate anti-virus and end-point anti-virus applications on their ability to protect the host from exploit attacks. Exploit code is software that leverages application vulnerabilities to gain access. Many attacks today are in fact exploit-based attacks that are delivered in e-mail and malicious or compromised web sites and target web browsers, plug-ins, and client-side applications. These are the kinds of attacks that made the now famous Operation Aurora attack on Google and many other U.S. companies possible, and were heavily reported on earlier this year.

To conduct this test, NSS Labs took 123 common and already public exploits (many have been public for awhile, some years even) and tested them against a selection of the leading anti-virus vendors: AVG, Norman, ESET, Panda, F-Secure, Sophos, Kaspersky, Symantec, McAfee, and Trend Micro.

The results are dismal and, according to NSS Labs, reveal that about 75 percent of organizations are not adequately protected.

How unprotected?

Well, the average protection score was 76 percent against the original exploit and 58 percent for a similar or alternative exploit. Note these exploits were not obfuscated in any way, according to NSS Labs. So many attacks in the real-world would even be more successful.

In baseball, a 76% average would be outstanding. When protecting your data: not so much.

But when one looks beneath the averages the results are even worse. Only one vendor, the highest ranked, stopped all exploits thrown at it. The lowest ranked vendor didn't even manage to stop 70 percent of the exploits thrown at it.

Symantec, according to the report, only managed to stop 71 percent of the exploits thrown at it.

These just aren't acceptable results. So not only are software vendors not investing enough to develop applications that will keep your data safe, but neither are most of the vendors that purport to protect you.

For my security and technology observations throughout the day, find me on Twitter.

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