Comparison Of Antivirus Software Test Results

The independent AV-Test website has published their latest September/October 2012 tests of 24 antivirus software packages running under Windows 7.

This is just one series of tests from one testing lab but it broadly mirrors my own conclusions from infected systems brought into my computer repair business. The results make painful reading for some of the biggest and most well known companies.

The biggest shock of this month’s tests is that Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) has lost its seal of approval – it was the only one of 24 products tested not to achieve AV-Test certification.

This was primarily due to very poor protection against 0-day malware in October tests, protecting against just 64% compared to the industry average of 89% (and top performers with 100%).

The timing could not be more embarrassing for Microsoft. As we reviewed here, MSE provides the antivirus engine used by Defender – the default antivirus built into Windows 8. To lose certification of MSE just a month after launch may put paid to the idea that Windows 8 users do not need to bother installing a different antivirus product.

It is also of concern as MSE is extremely popular with XP and Windows 7 users – a recent study revealed that it is the most popular antivirus product in North America, with 25% share of the market. That dominance means that millions of users may be at increased risk from malware attack.

Top Performers:

1. BitDefender IS 2013 – scored 17 out of 18. The only product to score a perfect 6 out of 6 for both Protection and Repair ability and it was the overall winner in 2011.

However, in real life I have never actually seen a customer using BitDefender and the problems raised in some reviews (bloated, slow) still make me steer clear of recommending it.

2. Kaspersky IS 2013 – scored 15 out of 18, down 2 from last tests. Remains my personal choice, providing excellent performance and reliability over the last couple of years.

It is also one of the cheapest suites if bought as a retail package (CD version) e.g. about $20 (1 year, 3 computers) from Amazon at the time of writing. See our review from more details.

3. Norton IS 2013 – also scored 15 out of 18, same as last tests. The days of growing old waiting for it to install and endless problems seem a thing of the past.

It is less bloated now but the advanced settings are a little confusing and the Live Update process can still prove troublesome.


Best Of The Rest:

1. ZoneAlarm Free Antivirus – scored 14.5 out of 18, down 1.5 from last tests. See our review for more details.

A recent new entry to these tests, it was again the best performing free product and includes a firewall too.

2. Avast Free 7 – scored 14 out of 18, down 1 from last tests. See our review for more details.

Our experience of Avast has always been good – it is light, quick and offers the ability to do a boot-time scan which is essential to eradicate some viruses and rootkits.

Both these products are free and remain firmly in the top 10, proving that you don’t always get what you pay for – they put many paid products to shame.

Bottom Of The Pile:

1. McAfee – scored 11 out of 18, down 1.5 from last tests. Moved up to seventh from bottom but still a disappointing result for one of the most well known commercial suites.

Considering that several free products scored far higher, it has a lot of room for improvement.

2. Microsoft Security Essentials (MSE) – scored 10.5 out of 18 (down another 2 since last time). MSE is lightweight, quick and popular but scored by far the worst for protection – the only product to fail certification.

It may be free but that is no excuse – ZoneAlarm and Avast both do an excellent job, scoring 14+.

Some people think it is a good thing that MSE is effectively included within Windows 8 – it may be if the alternative is using no antivirus software at all, but that’s about as far as it goes…

Is It Worth Switching To A New Antivirus?

My own experience of virus infected computers broadly supports the testing – most have poorly performing antivirus products which, although up to date and claiming all is well, have allowed dozens of viruses to rampage freely around the system.

If your current antivirus is in the bottom half of the list (especially for Protection) then it should be worth switching to one of the top paid suites – even the best free products may prove superior. If you can make full use of the 3 PC license, the top paid products can cost as little as $7 per computer – a cheap price for better security and more peace of mind.

With malware threats increasingly prevalent and the potential damage (financial and data loss) more serious, there is little logic in continuing to use a poorly performing product.

You can view the full test results here.