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Independent Anti-Virus Field Test - 2009-10-01

Many of our clients, vendors, friends and family ask us what we use for Anti-Virus. We've been using eScan Anti-Virus for both our corporate environment and home use for over 2 years. Why? It has consistent updates, both patches and anti-virus definitions, the price is right, and it's built for a variety of environments (Enterprise, Small and Medium Business, Home Use, etc.).

CSO has performed their own independent tests on Anti-Virus software, with interesting results. Needless to say, we'll be sticking with eScan as our Anti-Virus software and hope you reconsider yours.

This newsletter is comprised of information available at CSO Security and Risk by Chaz Sowers.

Editor's Note: Chaz Sowers wants reliable, independently tested antivirus software with few false positives. But what really constitutes an "independent" test? Unsatisfied with lab ratings, he built his own malware testbed and put 35 AV products through the paces. Here is the story behind one man's AV rankings; your results may vary.

A quick search online found over 40 AV products, many from companies I had never heard of before. I wondered how the lesser known ones might fare against the better known ones.

Since I already have a day job and didn't accept money from anyone for these test results, I decided to share my independent and unbiased comparison of AV products.

The results may surprise you.

Testing methodology and Disclaimer
My testing methodology was as unbiased as I could make it. After all, I had a vested interest in finding the best AV solution for my own computer. Of course my testing falls short of the double-blind scientific method, but I think it holds up well for publication in mainstream media. Remember this above all: I was searching for an AV product that would identify and delete the highest number of the test malware that I have. My emphasis in testing was on a high number of detections and my testing penalized software that reported a large number of "false positives."

I used a fresh install of Windows XP, running in a Sun Virtual Box virtual machine, to run all tests. The installation of Windows was fully patched and updated (including SP3) as of Jan. 8, 2009. Each AV program was copied to the main machine from a shared folder and was the only program on the virtual machine not part of a regular Windows install. The test data resided on a logical D:\ drive and consisted of 36,438 pieces of malware. All of the malware has been, or currently is, in the wild. The virtual machine was restored to the previous, pristine state after each test.

All AV software was downloaded directly from the vendor's website (where possible) or from a trusted source (C-Net or SourceForge) where the vendor did not directly support downloading. In all instances the software I downloaded was fully functional but time-limited software and would be the same that I would install and keep. For the companies that offered free versions of their products, I still chose the trial version of the commercial product.

Ultimately these findings are the true and factual results of my experiences with the software and hardware listed above. They should not be used as the sole basis for purchasing Antivirus software and none of these products is endorsed by me or any of the professional associations through whom I have certifications.

Here are my findings:

AV: Comodo Infections found: 36,492 Comments: By far and away this was the fastest AV scanner that I tested. Comodo scanned throughout all 36,438 malware in only 6 minutes. However, it appears that this speed comes at a price. The software flagged and "removed" 54 more instances of malware than were actually on the computer.

AV: eScan Infections found: 36,146 Comments: Surprisingly, this unknown (at least to me) AV vendor found the second highest number of malware. The scanning times were average but it outperformed many other better known brands with 99.19 percent detection. Ranks in second place.

AV: F-Prot Infections found: 32,635 Comments: I received the error message that the "maximum entry count reached". The "Report" window in the GUI had about 500 entries before the error appeared. This scanner ran longer than most taking 12 hours and 5 minutes to scan all data files.

AV: F-Secure Infections found: 36,692* Comments: On my fourth attempt at installation I finally got something that looks like it might scan for malware. The previous 3 installations failed at various points and the software failed with no error message or notification. After the software did run, it found an extra 2,642 files to scan and discovered 254 more instance of malware than actually existed on the computer.

AV: Kaspersky Infections found: 20,289 Comments: I read about Kaspersky Labs often, and I have to admit that my expectations were high for this product. Sadly, this was another major AV company that failed to impress me. The software only identified 55.68 percent of the malware.

AV: McAfee Infections found: 36,512 Comments: McAfee found 74 more malware than existed on the computer. Assuming that these 74 extra files were "false positives" and not the software alerting on Windows Updates, then this product had the most false positives of any I tested.

AV: Norton (Symantec) Infections found: 20,404 Comments: The program installed easily and ran quickly, finishing in about 25 minutes. I was shocked though at the low number of malware that it flagged, so I restored the virtual machine and reinstalled NAV. After running it a second time I got the exact same results. So I tried a third time. Sad to say, what I thought would be the Gold Standard, only identified 56 percent of the malware. But it did find this 56 percent three times in a row.

AV: Panda Infections found: 31,719 Comments: Sixteen hours, 4 installs and 7 reboots after I started, I finally was able to get the software to scan. It found only 87 percent of the malware on the system. Lots of work for a disappointing low result.

AV: Trend Micro Infections found: 35,182 Comments: I don't know what the software meant when it said that "35,001 targets checked" when it should have counted 36,438. It also said "35,182 potential threats found" but it didn't delete them.

AV: AVG Infections found: 110 Comments: Yeah it really only identified 110 items. I ran the test 4 different times, from the context menu and from the software's GUI, changing the options to allow more time to scan and even specifically pointing it to the folder that contains about 20K well known viruses. It still came up with only 110.

AV: Zone Alarm Infections found: --- Comments: It was the slowest of all AV products tested, scanning only 162 files an hour (2.7 files per minute). I was curious as to why it was so slow until I checked my firewall logs (not ZA or Checkpoint). Apparently the product "phones home" with each and every possible infection. At this rate the test would have taken over 9 days to complete. I pulled the plug after 30 hours.