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

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

Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2012

Floats like a butterfly and stings malware like a 10-pound hornet

You could hear our collective groans from a country mile when Webroot told us its new SecureAnywhere line exists almost entirely in the cloud. Our first thought was, this is going to suck. Webroot proceeded to tell us that SecureAnywhere is like no other antivirus out there: it takes up a fraction of the hard disk space as competing security programs, consumes a minuscule amount of RAM, and can scan a hard drive in seconds, not minutes. All this while still being effective? There’s no way, or so we thought. Astonishingly, Webroot undersold its product.

Installing Webroot’s flagship SecureAnywhere Complete software took less than five seconds and consumed roughly 50MB of disk space. That’s because SecureAnywhere is mostly just a local command hub for Webroot’s cloud database where the bulk of the signatures are stored. With an active Internet connection, you’re plugged in to a constantly updated “threat intelligence network.” Combined with a multilayered heuristics analysis that examines a file’s behavior, age, and popularity, SecureAnywhere is able to detect zero-day and even zero-hour threats, at least in theory.


Webroot has its head in the cloud, and that's precisely why SecureAnywhere is so light and effective.

In practice, SecureAnywhere works as advertised. We tested SecureAnywhere using the default settings and watched in surprise as it intercepted a bevy of threats, both locally and on the web. Against all odds, this tiny program towered like a giant. But what happens when you remove the cover of the cloud?

To find out, we disconnected from the Internet and unleashed a flurry of local attacks. As one might predict, SecureAnywhere stumbled, but it didn’t wave the white flag. When you’re working offline, SecureAnywhere still scans for suspicious activity and is able to block some threats. At the same time, it logs all active processes and tattles to the cloud the next time you’re online. If those processes turn out to be malicious, SecureAnywhere gets to work trying to stomp them out by reversing any changes that were made. It wasn’t quite as effective in our tests, but how often are you both offline and shuttling a bunch of dirty files to your PC?

Extras include a light firewall, cloud backup, a network manager capable of killing offending processes even when you’re cut off from the Task Manager, a customizable sandbox, and a whopping 124 settings to tinker with. Oh, and SecureAnywhere doesn’t conflict with other AV apps, so feel free to double-up with a free solution if you’re paranoid about security. Color us impressed.

score:9
Webroot SecureAnywhere Complete 2012
$80 (1 year, 3 PCs & 3 mobile)

www.webroot.com

Avira AntiVir Personal

Suffocates most malware but isn't quite airtight

Avira’s AntiVir is a favorite for frugal computer geeks. It’s free, it doesn’t gorge itself on system resources, and it consistently performs well in front of the big independent testing labs, albeit not all of them. Both Virus Bulletin (www.virusbtn.com) and AV-Comparatives (www.av-comparatives.org) sing high praise for AntiVir’s detection rate, but the song coming from AV-Test (www.av-test.org) is less upbeat and tells of AntiVir faltering in the face of zero-day malware attacks. After putting AntiVir through our own battery of tests, we feel compelled to join AV-Test’s chorus line.


AntiVir recommends disabling Microsoft's Windows Defender to avoid potential conflicts, but we think it's a risk worth taking for the added protection.

At first, malware had a tough time slipping past AntiVir. Dirty download after dirty download was swept away. It wasn’t until we tried to install a fake AV program that things turned ugly. Rather than stop us from turning our test bed into a pop-up infested mess, Avira blinked, and it was lights out. AntiVir wasn’t the only one to fail this portion of our in-house testing, but somewhere along the line, it also let rogue code ensure that our efforts to click URLs from Google searches were redirected. Our verdict is inevitably going to disappoint staunch AntiVir advocates, and while it blocked the majority of threats we threw at it, the two it missed happened to be big ones.

On the plus side, system performance is virtually unaffected with AntiVir installed, save for a slightly longer boot time. There’s also a fair number of tweaking options, though digging into the settings feels a little cumbersome. Along with AntiVir’s inability to guard against some fake AV software, we wouldn’t advise installing it on relatives’ machines willy-nilly. Computer‑savvy users who plan to supplement AntiVir with smart computing habits and the occasional second opinion from a dedicated antispyware program (or two) should be OK. Faults aside, you can’t argue with the price.

score:6
Avira AntiVir Personal
Free

www.avira.com/free

Best Practices

How to avoid getting hit

The best protection against malware isn’t security software, it’s you, the user. You should consider antivirus software as your last line of defense, and if you really want to avoid malware—don’t we all?—you should steer clear of high-risk situations altogether. Here are some tips.

Above all else, keep your software up to date. It starts with Windows but extends to all of your system software, especially programs that connect to the Internet. If you have a lot of programs installed, Secunia PSI (free, bit.ly/DW9u) will sift through them and let you know which ones are out of date. It will even fetch updates for you.

Be extra cautious when connecting to open Wi-Fi networks like the ones you find at coffee shops, airports, and other public places. It doesn’t take much effort for a hacker to set up a fake free Wi-Fi hotspot in hopes that you’ll connect to his laptop instead of the real hotspot.

Whenever possible, try to avoid using someone else’s computer to check your webmail. Can you really trust that their system isn’t infected with a keylogger or a screen‑capture utility? It just isn’t worth the risk. If you simply must, don’t forget to log out.

Finally, check the file extension before you open what you think is a JPEG or some other picture format. We’ve seen dirty executables hide behind picture icons. Right-click and select Properties, or configure Windows to “Show hidden files, folders, and drives” by opening a folder and going to Tools > Folder Options > View.

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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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