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3/29/2012
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How To Choose Endpoint Protection

Don't fret about malware detection. Focus on user interactions, performance, and management.

InformationWeek Green - Apr. 2, 2012 InformationWeek Green
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Security Software Listen Up!

As a security consultant I am frequently asked, "Which endpoint protection product detects the most malware?" Invariably, the question that follows is "So I should buy that one, right?"

Not necessarily.

Software vendors will hate to hear this, but the malware-detection capability of most products is good enough. At the consulting firm Savid, our endpoint protection reviews show that they all do fine when it comes to identifying malicious software. Other testing also shows only moderate differences among products. For instance, the top 10 vendors blocked between 93.6% and 99.5% of malicious examples provided, according to a November report from AV-Comparatives, a testing company. That's a relatively small gap in terms of detection capability.

The point here is that you shouldn't focus your endpoint protection requests for proposals or technical reviews on detection rates alone, nor is it necessary to spend a lot of time infecting PCs in your lab to watch how the various products fend for themselves.

Instead, we believe you'll have more success with endpoint protection by analyzing three key areas: how willing employees are to interact with the software for alerts and messages, how much the software slows PC performance, and how manageable the product is in terms of changing policies and other vital tasks.

Users Matter Most

IT pros love to get a bunch of products in a lab and throw malware at them to see what happens. But we believe you'll get better results if you focus on employees. Here's why.

Security software varies greatly in how much interaction is required from employees. It might show a simple icon on a Google search page to indicate potentially malicious sites. It can also be more complex, such as an on-screen pop-up message that warns of possible dangers if an executable or program runs. These messages often require the user to make a decision to allow or deny an action.

The degree to which employees understand (or care) about these interactions will affect the viability of an endpoint product. If users accept this level of interaction given the sensitive nature of the company's work, a product with lots of accept-or-deny options can work. But if users feel like security software is blocking them from doing work, they will demand less-restrictive controls, or even the removal of certain security modules.

In our consulting engagements, we routinely see network threat protection turned off because of all the darn security messages that appear when users browse the Web or run various apps. We have even seen endpoint products that have been trained by users to always allow every executable and to grant access to every website, which defeats the purpose of the software. Don't underestimate employees' ability to incapacitate your endpoint security.

Thus, our No. 1 rule for endpoint protection success: Test products with your end users. Devise user-interaction scenarios for key malware infection points, including Web browsing and email. See how the product reacts to threats, how the product presents those threats to your users, and, most important of all, how your end users respond to warnings. You can record every user's interactions using software such as CamStudio (which is free). The output plays like a video, which lets you review and analyze people's activity once the tests are concluded. This output can also be used in employee training.

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