Tests show consumer antivirus programs falling behind

The latest tests of consumer of antivirus software released on Tuesday show the products are declining in performance as the number of malicious software programs increases, a trend that does not bode well for consumers.

NSS Labs tested 11 consumer security suites and found that the products are less effective than a year ago as far as blocking the download and execution of malicious software programs. The company also tested if those programs detected and blocked malicious Web sites.

In its tests, the company used new malicious Web sites within minutes of discovery in addition to brand-new malware, which it contends is indicative of the conditions that users would find while browsing the Internet.

The download and execution blocking rate for the top performing product, Trend Micro's Titanium Maximum Security, fell from 96.4 percent to 90.1 percent from the third quarter of 2009 to the same period this year.

Coming in at number two was McAfee's Internet Security at 85.2 percent, followed by F-Secure Internet Security 2010, 80.4 percent; Norman Security Suite, 77.2 percent; Sunbelt VIPRE Antivirus Premium 4, 75.3 percent; Microsoft Security Essentials 2, 75 percent; Panda Internet Security 2011, 73.1 percent; Symantec Norton Internet Security 2010, 72.3 percent; Kaspersky Internet Security 2011, 71.3 percent; Eset Smart Security 4, 60 percent; and AVG's Internet Security 9, 54.8 percent.

All of the rates were lower except for two products: McAfee's Internet Security and F-Secure's Internet Security 2010, which upped their detection and blocking rates by 3.6 percent and .4 percent respectively. The biggest drop occurred for AVG's Internet Security 9, which fell 18.5 percent, and Kaspersky's Internet Security 2011, which fell 16.5 percent, according to NSS Labs.

"Perhaps surprisingly, Microsoft Security Essentials -- a free product -- ranked higher than half of the competition (paid products), including Symantec's market leading product," according to the report.

But overall, the results create a dimmer picture for people's chances of keeping their PC free of malware. The tested security products haven't necessarily fallen in quality, but rather the threats are evolving at a rapid pace, said Rick Moy, president of NSS Labs.

"It is a cat and mouse game," Moy said. "The bad guys basically are getting smarter. At any given point, the antivirus products have to catch up."

NSS Labs is an independent security software company that does not accept vendor money for performing comparative evaluations. Although it normally sells its reports, the company released the consumer anti-malware test results to the public for free.

The company also tested the suites' effectiveness against client-side exploits, which are specially crafted code sequences that unlock a vulnerability in a software application, such as a Web browser or PDF viewer. An exploit is then used to deliver malicious software to the computer, which can then be used to steal data, send spam or join the computer into a botnet, or a networked of compromised PCs.

NSS Labs found in the latest tests that cybercriminals have an astounding 25 to 97 percent chance of a successful attack using client-side exploits against the 11 security suites.

The company's researchers used penetration tools such as Metasploit to test how well the suites were able to detect 118 client-side exploits, including ones used to deliver malicious software programs such as the online banking malware Zeus and Stuxnet, a program that manipulates SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems made by Siemens.

Many security software suites have a heavier focus on detecting the malware that is delivered rather than the means by which is delivered, which is the exploit. But it is still a very important measure of the strength of the security software.

F-Secure's Internet Security 2010 product and Kaspersky's Internet Security 2011 proved the best, detecting 74.6 percent of the 118 client-side exploits.

Third place went to McAfee's Internet Security at 72.9 percent and then followed in order by Symantec Norton Internet Security 2010 at 64.4 percent, Microsoft Security Essentials 2 at 60.2 percent, ESET Smart Security 4, 44.1 percent; Norman Security Suite, 25.4 percent; Trend Micro Titanium Maximum Security, 18.6 percent; AVG Internet Security 9, 15.3 percent; Panda Internet Security 2011, 10.2 percent; and then finally Sunbelt VIPRE Antivirus Premium 4, 3.4 percent.

Send news tips and comments to jeremy_kirk@idg.com

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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