Choose Your Defender! 10 Anti-Virus Programs Reviewed and Compared

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Choose Your Defender! 10 Anti-Virus Programs Reviewed and Compared

Terminology 101

Malware in its many forms

MALWARE VS. VIRUS: The first thing you need to know is that malware is a generic term used to describe any malicious program. If it's unwanted and insidious, it's malware (or iTunes—zing!). Even though they're often confused, malware is not the same as a virus, though a virus is a common form of malware. Viruses are pieces of unwanted code that latch on to legitimate programs and can self-replicate. They're often unwittingly spread though email attachments, USB thumb drives, and file sharing.

WORMS: Like a virus, a worm self-replicates, but it doesn't need to attach itself to a host file. Worms burrow into your network looking for vulnerabilities to exploit and spread to other systems.

TROJAN: Like the horse of Greek mythology, a trojan masquerades as something awesome—a psychedelic screensaver or card game, for instance—but hides a terrible surprise. In other words, it appears to be something that it's not. Trojans can't replicate themselves like a virus, but once you run or install a trojan, it gets to work opening back doors or whatever evil deed the author intended it to do.

SPYWARE: Just what it sounds like, spyware is any unwanted program designed to spy on your activities. It might be a program that logs your keystrokes (keylogger) or tracking software that gather information about you without your knowledge or consent.

ADWARE: To keep it short and simple, adware bombards you with ads. Some examples include random pop-ups, unwanted banner ads, and browser redirects.

McAfee Internet Security 2012

Light on its feet, but too easily tripped up by malware

Two years ago we applauded McAfee for giving its security suite a much‑needed makeover. McAfee apparently decided to leave well enough alone, as the UI looks identical to both the 2011 and 2010 models. We’re not advocating change for the sake of change, but compared to the current crop of AV applications, McAfee’s menu layout has fallen behind the times and now feels stale.

McAfee did teach its old dog some new tricks, though nothing that will win it Best in Show. USB and removable drives are now scanned automatically (if you want them to be), it’s supposedly better at blocking botnet software from communicating with the mother ship, and a preinstall scan sniffs out malware before McAfee gets fully settled.


McAfee hasn't changed its appearance since 2010, but its real blemishes are beneath the surface.

Believe it or not, McAfee’s greatest strength is its low impact on performance. Our file transfer test took the same amount of time with or without McAfee installed. What’s more, McAfee added a mere five seconds to our boot time—impressive! We’re also blown away by McAfee’s speedy scan engine, which sifted through 35GB in less than 30 seconds on a second pass-through.

Cue the horror music because this is where things turn gruesome. While trotting around the web’s dark alleyways, McAfee tried its best to ward away hostile downloads, but was only semi-effective. File after cantankerous file filled up our desktop. As we clicked them, McAfee would often require a reboot to rinse off the scum. Repeated reboots quickly got old, and we still ended up with an infected test bed. After McAfee issued our system a clean bill of health, Malwarebytes detected more than 40 infections, including a MyDoom variant that sabotaged 25 percent of our CPU. That’s a problem.

McAfee made big strides in minimizing its impact on system resources, but it’s of little benefit if it can’t protect our system.

score:5
McAfee Internet Security 2012
$80 (1 year, 3 PCs)

www.mcafee.com

ESET Smart Security 5

Even the best boxers sometimes lose a round

ESET has flirted with a Kick Ass award each of the two previous times we reviewed it, and we had high hopes the third time would be the charm. But rather than receive a Kick Ass award, version 5 got its ass kicked by a fake AV virus and a few other pieces of malware. That’s unfortunate, because even though ESET has never offered the most features or fastest scan times, we could always count on it to overpower malware.


Don't overpay for security—ESET offers several subscription options, ranging from one to two years for up to five PCs.

Things weren’t quite as bad as they were with McAfee, and ESET did a much better job at blocking polluted downloads and keeping us away from murky websites. However, the few containments it did let through worked our system over like a schoolyard bully picking on the class nerd. We couldn’t access the Task Manager to kill the offending processes, nor were we able to load MSConfig to disable misbehaving apps from loading with Windows. The fake AV program even prevented us from installing third-party software, an underhanded tactic intended to stop users from calling in the cavalry. Our only option was to boot into Safe Mode, but you’d have to be pretty tech savvy to deal with the infections ESET couldn’t.

Performance was a mixed bag. ESET didn’t impress us with its PCMark 7 or PCMark Vantage scores, yet it added only five seconds to boot and three seconds to our file transfer test. Our test bed didn’t feel slow, but if you live and breathe benchmark scores, ESET will leave you winded.

The list of grievances concludes with ESET’s clunky interface. It’s not terribly difficult to find your way around, but it's just complicated enough to keep less experienced users from making changes. We had high hopes for ESET, but we are ultimately let down by this year’s release.

score:6
ESET Smart Security 5
$60 (1 year, 3 PCs)

www.eset.com
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Comments

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Paul_Lilly

AVG Free Anti-Virus 2012 is included, it's the second to last one (in order of appearance).

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routerconfigif

Thanks for the article. I was just wondering what the heck to recommend to people anymore. I also really like the table at the end, seeing what each A/V ranked on the table (like you did below each A/V review) with everything else would be really helpful though = )

 

 

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knowname

I hadn't used an antivirus program in like 8 years. Then again I don't do much on my computer but surf the internet (downloading avis and programs from reputable sites... mostly), play 1 player games and make videos in Adobe Premiere. I might even add dabbling in MMOs from time to time too.

Anyway my point is, if you consider yourself a savvy PERSONAL user (and you don't torrent... or have client-side email to worry about) than in my opinion you don't NEED an AV program at all! Don't get me wrong, I scan my computer from time to time. I never find anything though, but a good checkup is always good, it's simply paranoia. Now again I'm not a heavy gamer, I don't d/l expiramental s/w or even frequent flash heavy sites (do they even exist any more??) BUT I'm just saying if you don't think you need an antivirus... maybe you don't need an antivirus?

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B.A.Frayd

And in this day and age, with the excessive processing resources we have in our PCs, what, exactly, do you gain by not using, at least, one the the free antivirus products?

Perhaps you are one of the lucky people who have never been infected with a nasty bit of malware, but trust me, if you ever wonder down that sinkhole, your attitude will be very different.

It seems foolish not to take a simple precaution that could save you hours of wasted time, frustration and even loss of important data.

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CHR15x94

I know what you mean. I never get viruses.

That being said, there's been the odd time or two when I've connected to a website that would try to download a trojan or what not onto my computer. I've got WOT installed so I dodge the bullet most of the time, but there has been the odd website that wasn't rated correctly and tried to do crap. Luckily though my AV has stopped that.

But yeah, I rarely ever get any virus related problems. It usually only happens when I start crawling around the lesser known parts of the web. Always nice to know you have an AV just in case though.

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CHR15x94

ESET's really gotten that bad? That sucks, I remember trying out their software two or so years ago, and it was probably the best AV I'd ever used. It was fast, had great protection, and I loved the firewall and all the little settings and details that could be messed with in the AV. I only used the trial as I had (/have) no money for AV software.

Unfortunate that they aren't doing too great. Is it still written in assembly (it was written almost purely in assembly, right?), or have they switched over to C or something?

Currently use Avast!'s free software, works quite well. Nothing overly impressive, but it does what it's supposed to do and most importantly doesn't bug you all the time to buy the full version.

Also, great article, as always.

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MastaGuy

I've been using Mcafee for a while and I got a virus that made me wipe my hard drive. So about a year later, I switched over to Norton and I'm very happy with it. It's fast and keeps viruses away and notifies me if downloaded files are safe or clean. 

 

Great article btw. Very informative. I also liked the 101 about virus types. Fantastic article MPC. Keep it up!

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Ashton2091

great article. kinda miss avg. but now I use a combo of Microsoft Security Essentials and PC Tools Spyware Doctor. (also, malwarebytes, though not real-time)

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RaianTheFallen

Still using ESET Smart Security. I love it to pieces.

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negatus

I actually feel this was a pretty good article and it did include some free options.  I'm interested in an evaluation of Microsoft's free option.  They are in the process of updating it (currently in beta).

 

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glamdring

For the most part this has been a great article! I run Linux day to day, but when booting into my Windows partition I been using Norton for the past 6 months. I can remember how much I hated them, in fact first thing i did was remove Norton back in the day!

After the rewrite I can't seem to find another subscription AV that can beat it, great speed and detection. Watch for sales and pick up the complete 360 edition for $10-$20 on Newegg or Amazon.

 

I'm very disappointed that you did not review Comodo (ICS). (Not as in Icecream Sandwich, this has nothing to do with Android)

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szore

What about MS Security Essentials?????

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Baer

They did not review it which gives the impression that it is not good. In fact it is great. I rate it right up there with Norton except it is faster on boot than Norton and in general it does not seem to slow anything down. I highly recommend it to all my clients and I use it myself. It is light, fast and seems to catch just about anything.

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Paul_Lilly

That question's going to come up a lot, and to answer it, we reviewed Microsoft Security Essentials 2.0 in last year's roundup. There hasn't been a major revision since then (the current build is version 2.1), and we didn't think it made sense to knock another AV program off the list in order to re-review MSE.

There is a rebuild in the works, though. It's currently available as a beta download and is supposed to go Gold by the end of the year. If there's enough interest, it might be something we evaluate as a standalone review in an upcoming issue (along with others we didn't have room for).

-Paul Lilly

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szore

Thanks Paul. Its what I use and I got a complex when I didn't see it on the list.

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Vano

Yeah, the new "beta" is a castrated version of current 2.1. MSE was already pretty much without any customization, and now there are no options at all. MSE seems to think that all users who uses MSE are mentally disabled or at least mentally challenged...Now it doesn't ask you ANYTHING, it just denies, removes, quaranties anything it thinks is a threat. For instance, a patch for Win XP that modifies TCPIP.SYS to allow more the 10 concurent half-opened connections (P2P users should know that), MSE identifies it as "VirTool:Win32/Evidpatch.A" and quaranties it without any questions when you highlight it (not even executing it!).

It reminds me of IQ test in movie "Idiocracy"

 

That said, I still prefer MSE over any other is because it's free, fast (excluding when you try allow a program, which sometimes takes a minute or two, during which time you can't cancel or minimize/close the window!), small foot print and doesn't slow down the system during normal use.

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Zoandar

But for many of us, doesn't it boil down to "should we change from what we're using now? " so in that regard, those of using MSSE because of your previous reviews would have liked a comparison, even if not a whole new review. The article seems to assume everyone will want to switch from whatever they are using for the latest new release.

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0ly1r3m@1ns

sorry mpc but this article must include free options too, also norton gets kick ass! sorry i had nortons 2012 hated it slow as fuck took forever to boot scan took forever too just total crap uninstalled it put mse never had any problems only got 1 viruse and that was cause i told mse to let me run it, lets also not mention that nortons wouldnt let me defrag my harddrive when it was 15% fragmented. point is norton is total crap the reworking made it better yes but still crap this article is total bullshit

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Supall

They have Avast! and AVG on there, 2 of the most popular free AVs out there.  Not to mention that they did an article earlier this year regarding free antiviruses.

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Paul_Lilly

You're absolutely right (about one thing), freebie options should be included, which is why they are. In addition to seven paid Internet security suites, we also reviewed three top free AV programs: Avira AntiVir Personal, AVG Anti-Virus 2012, and Avast Free Antivirus 6.

For anyone wondering why we didn't include Microsoft Security Essentials, it's because we reveiwed version 2.0 in last year's roundup and there hasn't been a major revision since then. The next big release is currently in beta form and expected to go Gold by the end of the year, well after we completed testing for our current roundup.

-Paul Lilly

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caseybiggsconnor

but why to compare a free version to paid version? it really doesnt make sense... it must be in the same category... right?

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alexw1234

The beta is out, but you have to download it using a hotmail account. To me it seems a little sluggish and had a bug were my gadgets wouldn't start, but it is beta after all. I would love to see some numbers so i can determine if it just my rig or not. I have 4 gb's of Corsair ram, a 1 terabyte  wd hd, and an athlon II x4, with  a evga gtx 506 ti. My scan time for a quick scan was 2 mins after the first few scans and the full scan still hasn't completed after 2 hours.

http://bit.ly/vr3tSo    That is the link.

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Neufeldt2002

I was able to download the beta just fine with a gmail account. Also, my quick scans are less than a minute running on a Phenom II 940 BE with 4GB Ram. Full scan takes less than an hour with 1.5TB HDD.

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alexw1234

Ok, thank, I guess my problem was that i was scanning by 3 terabyte as well, i guess when i updated my whitelist got changed.

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glamdring

Very nonconstructive comment just repeating your hatred towards Norton. If you read the whole article you would see that free AV are included...

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0ly1r3m@1ns

i have used nortons for a good many years they promised a new revamp and i stayed loyal but i found no fucking improvment and i got fed up when it wouldnt allow me to defrag my harddrive went to mse every thing worked like a charm plus considering on my old xp computer with nortons 2012 i still got viruses and they still where a pain to remove i just ditched it compelatly. now MSE should STILL be included even tho there hasnt been an update due to the fact

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glamdring

Why include something that has already been reviewed? It's just waisting space for other AV to be reviewed, I would rather know what is going on with the newer AVG than he about the same MSE that I already know about. Besides, if your set on using MSE, it is indeed a good free choice, than what dose it matter if it got reviewed in this article?

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