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AV Still Weak on Rootkit Detection, Fixing Infections

New AV-Test.org results reveal some nagging problems with antivirus products

Independent antivirus testing organization AV-Test.org has released new test results on the latest versions of 30 antivirus products, and the report cards weren't all good.

None of the AV products scored straight As, and a few failed in some categories, such as remediation from malware infections and AV's old nemesis, rootkit detection.

New malware just keeps on coming, according to the report. In January and February alone, AV-Test.org discovered a whopping 1.1 million samples of unique malware spreading around the Net. The organization found nearly 5.5 million total during all of last year, up from 972,000 in 2006. (See Bake-off: Many AV Products Can't Detect Rootkits.)

“We thought it would be a good idea to start a new test of anti-malware software in order to see how well the tools are currently performing, given the masses of malware ‘in the wild,’” says Andreas Marx, CEO and managing director for the Germany-based AV-Test.org. AV-Test.org only tested the newest versions (as of March 1) of the English-language versions of the products, he says.

Researcher Alex Eckelberry, who is president and CEO of Sunbelt Software, took the results a step further by assigning them equivalent letter grades.

AV-Test tested the products on their on-demand detection of malware; on-demand detection of adware and spyware; false positives per 100,000 files; performance (scanning speed); proactive detection of new and unknown malware; response time to new widespread malware; and detection of active, running rootkits; and remediation.

Each product had its ups and downs in various categories. While Microsoft’s Forefront aced the false positives test and got a 98 percent score in remediation -- for instance, it received the equivalent of an “F” for its response time to new widespread malware outbreaks, taking more than eight hours to do so.

"There is this problem with remediation. I think that was borne out in the test results, which showed the lowest scores all around in remediation -- basically, a C -- score if you average it out," Eckelberry says. "So if the user caught something, how are they going to get rid of it? This often involved a process of trying multiple programs and remedies... I think this might be due in part to legacy antivirus engines dealing with highly complex threats."

Aside from the same troubles with rootkit detection, which scored an average C-, performance was a problem in the tests, he says. "An antivirus product is worse than useless if the user uninstalls it due to frustration with high resource usage, slow boot times, endless pop-ups -- and worse, an inability to deal effectively with certain types of malware," he says.

Overall, Sophos scored well (all As and Bs) in the AV-Test.org tests, as did Symantec’s Norton Antivirus (five As, two Bs, and a C in response time to new malware, with a 4- to 6-hour window). McAfee got all As and Bs, except for two Cs -- in performance, and in response time to new malware (4-6 hours).

CA’s eTrust VET earned the dubious distinction of scoring the lowest of all of the products in detecting adware and spyware, with only a 56.5 percent success rate, while K7 Computing wasn’t far behind, with a 59.5 percent rate of detection. K7 fared better in malware detection, with a score of 65.5 percent, and CA’s eTrust VET was more successful, with a 72.1 percent score.

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  • Sophos plc
  • Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT)
  • Symantec Corp. (Nasdaq: SYMC)
  • McAfee Inc. (NYSE: MFE)
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