Security Suites: 15 packages go head to head

Security Suites: 15 packages go head to head

Fifteen security packages go head to head in our labs test, including Kaspersky, Norton, ZoneAlarm, McAfee, F-Secure and AVG. Find out which will keep you safe and which could let you down.

Choosing a security suite is like playing the stock market. Well, perhaps that’s not an encouraging analogy in these tightened times, but there are certain similarities. Deciding whether to invest in a company is a gamble: you can’t reliably predict what tomorrow may bring.

Likewise, when it comes to security, there’s no way to know how a given suite will fare against the millions of new threats that will emerge over the course of a year-long subscription.

But in both cases you can make an informed decision. It stands to reason that an established company with a proven track record is a safer bet than a flighty start-up. And similarly, if a security suite gives good protection today, that’s likely because its developer has the technology and resources to stay on top of emerging threats.

Of course, the two situations aren’t identical: you won’t get a big dividend for choosing the right security suite. But you might avoid a lot of upheaval and loss of data, potentially including your financial details – so it could still prove costly to back the wrong horse.

This month, to help you choose, we’ve undertaken our biggest ever head-to-head group test of security suites. No fewer than 15 packages are on test in this Labs, and we’ve pitted every one of them against over 200 threats, in the form of both infected files and web-based exploits, as well as a barrage of network-based attacks.

We’ve also measured each package’s impact on system resources – how much it affects your PC’s boot time, and how much memory it consumes.

Just read on to find which suites proved to be nimble and effective, and which disappointed us. You may be surprised by the results, as some of the smaller developers put big names to shame.

Choosing a security suite is like playing the stock market. Well, perhaps that’s not an encouraging analogy in these tightened times, but there are certain similarities. Deciding whether to invest in a company is a gamble: you can’t reliably predict what tomorrow may bring.

Likewise, when it comes to security, there’s no way to know how a given suite will fare against the millions of new threats that will emerge over the course of a year-long subscription.

But in both cases you can make an informed decision. It stands to reason that an established company with a proven track record is a safer bet than a flighty start-up. And similarly, if a security suite gives good protection today, that’s likely because its developer has the technology and resources to stay on top of emerging threats.

Of course, the two situations aren’t identical: you won’t get a big dividend for choosing the right security suite. But you might avoid a lot of upheaval and loss of data, potentially including your financial details – so it could still prove costly to back the wrong horse.

This month, to help you choose, we’ve undertaken our biggest ever head-to-head group test of security suites. No fewer than 15 packages are on test in this Labs, and we’ve pitted every one of them against over 200 threats, in the form of both infected files and web-based exploits, as well as a barrage of network-based attacks.

We’ve also measured each package’s impact on system resources – how much it affects your PC’s boot time, and how much memory it consumes.

Just read on to find which suites proved to be nimble and effective, and which disappointed us. You may be surprised by the results, as some of the smaller developers put big names to shame.

How we test:


Plus, how we work out the ratings

This month we test 15 security suites, putting them through a series of exercises using genuine threats and measuring their impact on system resources.

You’ll find key results in the graphs on this page, and on the following pages each suite receives a detailed review of its particular strengths and weaknesses.

At the bottom of each review, you’ll find star ratings out of six for Performance, Ease of Use and Value for Money, and a final Overall rating.

The tests

Each package is deployed on a clean installation of Windows Vista Ultimate. We use physical hardware rather than virtualisation to ensure real world results, and a router-based ADSL internet connection exactly like a home PC. Default installation options are used, and we ensure the most recent updates are applied to both Windows and the security package.

click on image to enlarge
click on image to enlarge


Performance

Our Performance rating reflects how effectively each suite protects your PC from attacks. We arrive at this rating by carrying out three practical tests. The first examines each package’s ability to identify files containing malware.

We test this by using each suite to scan a collection of executable viruses, Trojans, keyloggers and other file-based threats. Every file has been positively identified as dangerous by at least four different packages, so a good suite shouldn’t overlook any of them. The results are shown in the graph above.

We then visit over 100 websites known to be hosting potentially malicious exploits, and observe whether each security package warns us of the danger. Since websites can change between tests, we verify that the danger is still detectable at the end of our testing; if it has been removed during the course of our tests, we remove that site from consideration.

To ensure a high degree of confidence, we also exclude sites which are not positively identified as dangerous by at least four suites. The results can be seen on the second graph.

Finally we test each package’s intrusion protection capabilities: this is done with the GFI LANguard scanning tool, launched from a remote computer on the same internal network.

This package reports which ports are accessible, and whether the system is exposing any known vulnerabilities. The results of this test can’t be expressed as a graph, but we detail each package’s performance in its review and factor it into the final score.

click on image to enlarge
click on image to enlarge


Ease of use

The Ease of use score is partly a reflection of how responsive and accessible each package’s user interface is, including our assessment of how neatly the software handles spam and email-borne malware, which we test with the standard Windows Mail client. It also takes into account each suite’s impact on system startup and its memory footprint.

To quantify a package’s effect on startup, it’s not enough to simply time how long the system takes to boot. Many of this month’s suites are still initialising long after this, eating up resources while you’re trying to launch applications and start work.

To account for this, we not only time how long it takes for the desktop to appear, but also leave the computer idle for a further two minutes and count the number of seconds during which CPU usage is greater than 10%. The results are shown in our third graph.

To measure memory footprint, we note both the maximum RAM allocation used by the system during those first two minutes – a measure of potential disruption to your work – and the basic memory usage to which the system settles down once the package has finished initialising. Our fourth graph shows these results.

Value for Money

The Value for Money score reflects the purchase price of each suite, but also takes into account each package’s scores for Performance and Ease of Use: a cheap security suite is, after all, still poor value if it doesn’t deliver effective protection.

We also weigh up any extra features, such as online backup, which may justify a higher price. It’s always worth remembering, though, that many suppliers have occasional special offers, and boxed editions may be available at a lower price in some of the high-street stores.

Overall

Finally, we award an Overall score to each package. This score is an average of the other three scores, although due to rounding it may appear slightly higher or lower than expected.

click on image to enlarge
click on image to enlarge
Browse this article: 

This Group Test appeared in the March 2009 issue of PC & Tech Authority Magazine

See more about:  security  |  suites  |  antivirus  |  software  |  spyware  |  malware  |  virus
 
 

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