How many times have you been called to fix a PC that was invested with malware, only to discover that the user fell for one of the oldest tricks in the malware Bible, fake AV and utility programs? It's a common occurrence because, well, it simply works. Fake AV programs disguised as legitimate security software is getting tougher to discern from the real deal, and that's bad news for less savvy computer users. Security vendor McAfee put together a "Dirty Dozen" list of the most common fake AV software and utilities, and some of the entries might just surprise you.
F-Secure caught lightning in a bottle, poured it into its scan engine, and then built a security suite around it. When we say this scanner’s fast, we mean buckle up, hold on to the seat of your pants, and hope you don’t get whiplash. F-Secure’s scanner sped through our test bed in just three minutes and 18 seconds the first time around, which is nearly twice as fast as the next-quickest AV suite and more nimble than the second, optimized scans of 60 percent of the other apps in this roundup. During a second scan, F-Secure zipped through our files in a mere 45 seconds.
Webroot used to focus its attention solely on system utilities and antispyware programs, such as Spy Sweeper, arguably it’s most popular product. Starting in 2006, Webroot widened its security net and now offers a fleshed-out lineup of antivirus products, the one reviewed here being its flagship suite.
When you first install BullGuard, you’re prompted to select a notification level. One of the two choices clamps a muzzle on BullGuard, stifling alerts the program can figure out on its own. The other promises more notifications so you’ll always know what the mutt is up to. We say mutt because BullGuard is another security suite that builds on top of someone else’s scan engine. We saw this with ZoneAlarm, which chose to go with Kaspersky, while BullGuard fetched BitDefender’s scan engine, another solid choice.
Sharing the spotlight with ZA’s well-known firewall is Kaspersky’s integrated scan engine. Kaspersky earned a 9 verdict and a Kick Ass award last year, and in our eyes, pairing its scan engine with ZA’s firewall is like hiring Chuck Norris and Bruce Lee as your personal bodyguards. If only they had come dressed for the job.
It’s hard not to look a gift horse in the mouth when you’re told it’s a potential thoroughbred capable of racing in the Kentucky Derby, but later find out it’s limping on two legs short of a set and isn’t even fit for making glue. That’s what we think about ClamWin, a free, open-source antivirus program that comes saddled with “gotchas.”
BitDefender flies in the face of conventional wisdom in more ways than one. Like most security suites, BIS runs the risk of spreading itself too thin by combining antivirus, antispyware, antiphishing, a firewall, parental controls, antispam, and more into a single package. That’s a challenge in and of itself, but BitDefender also attempts to cater to computer users of all skill levels, whether you consider yourself a beginner, intermediate, or expert. A tough challenge, but BitDefender proves up to the task.
Panda holds a ton of promise, and if it weren’t for a few niggling issues, we’d anoint it our favorite security suite. But there are some things that just can’t be ignored, like the same persistent pop-ups we complained about in the 2010 release. It started from the get-go with Panda reminding us that we still needed to activate the program (even though we hadn’t previously been prompted). Shortly after, another pop-up appeared imploring us to register, something that is usually optional. In this case, our choices were to go ahead and register or be reminded at a future date (one day, one week, or one month), with no option to disregard it forever. Bad Panda!
Like Norton, McAfee’s struggling to overcome an unflattering reputation among the tech-literate in hopes of expanding its user base beyond the OEM crowd, and last year’s completely retooled version went a long way toward that goal.
With the release of NIS 2011, it’s apparent Symantec is still trying to shed its lingering image in power-user circles as a resource pig, perhaps a little too hard at times. The new user interface is sleek and sexy with plenty of configuration options to drill into, but it’s also a little daunting for less savvy PC users. It’s the polar opposite of Microsoft Security Essentials, and if you’re experienced with computers, that’s great. Your Aunt Agnes, however, probably won’t make heads or tails out of it all.