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Test Results: 2009 Anti-Malware Suites Better at Sniffing Out Threats

AV-Test's latest lab results show improvements in malware detection, without jeopardizing performance

Finally, some good news about antivirus products: The new 2009 releases of popular antivirus and Internet security suites overall are catching more malware than their previous versions and without major performance hits, according to newly released test results.

Independent testing lab AV-Test looked at 33 different anti-malware products that had been updated through Aug. 18 -- including 2008 and 2009 versions of F-Secure, Symantec, and Panda’s anti-malware suites as well as Windows Live OneCare 2.5.2900.03, Kaspersky Internet Security 2009, and McAfee Internet Security 2008 -- measuring how well they did in detecting malware and spyware, proactively detecting new and unknown malware, responding to new widespread malware, scanning quickly, and generating false positives.

“In most cases, the test results of the different products didn't change dramatically... [Most] got better when compared with our March 2008 testing and all 2009 editions we've reviewed performed better than the current releases,” says Andreas Marx, CEO of AV-Test. “I especially liked that the protection got better while the system performance wasn't hit that much -- the 2009 editions [including beta versions] were faster than the 2008 releases. So it looks like that most vendors have done their homework and instead of adding only new features, they also took care about the system performance.”

Marx noted that many of the '09 products can or will eventually use “cloud” type services for more comprehensive scans. “If an unknown file has been found on a system and this file appears to be suspicious, the scanner (and guard) will check if it's a known good or bad application by contacting a server from the AV company,” he says. “This might further increase the detection rates. However, you'd need to be online and accept such connections in order to get this additional protection.”

In the AV-Test research, Symantec’s Norton 2009 beta came out with some of the best ratings in the lab tests, catching over 98 percent of malware, over 95 percent of spyware, and no false positives. The software also found new malware over 95 percent of the time. Marx notes that Symantec is now pushing virus definition updates, known as “pulse updates,” every five to 10 minutes in some cases.

Among the products with the lowest scores were CA Internet Security Suite Plus 2008, ClamWin 0.93.1, Dr.Web for Windows 4.44, Rising Internet Security 2008, and VirusBuster Professional 10.86.1. AV-Test did not test rootkit detection -- which has been a weak spot for most anti-malware tools -- in this round of testing to give vendors time to improve this detection, which was poor in AV-Test’s April results. (See New Tests Show Rootkits Still Evade AV.)

AV-Test says it used the best available editions of the products, and ran the tests on Windows XP platforms, using over 1.1 million malware samples. “The 2009 [products] seem to be a lot better optimized for the real needs of the customers, and they will not slow down the systems in such a dramatic way like the 2008 editions did,” Marx says.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading