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Anti-Virus Programs Compared

Written by Dave
5 Star Support Security Specialist

02-12-06

This paper will compare the current, commonly available anti-virus program offerings on the market. I am not going to state that I am the utmost authority on the subject, but will give you my take on them based on using the programs and comparing them against each other in a real-world environment on my test machines. I am also not going to try to tell you what you should get or buy. That is entirely up to you, and is a decision I cannot make for you. I base my opinions on actual product use over a period of time, and will simply share my thoughts and opinions with you.

Testing on all programs was done by downloading and installing a fully functional trial version into a test box equipped with a some already installed benign test viruses, as well as some penetration testing and hack tools placed in folders. How well the program worked was evaluated by how long it took to find these items, as well as how many files and folders were scanned, how thorough the scan was, and long the scan took. Available on-line test viruses were also used in order to test reaction and reaction speed to incoming threats. Further testing was also done by use of email with various test virus attachments, some imbedded in zip files.

<>Symantec Norton-

This is perhaps the most widely known and used product available. Symantec has an excellent reputation that is aided by a great marketing approach. It has been included as a free trial program with new PC’s from almost every major computer manufacturer for a number of years now. Most people are reluctant or resistant to change, so if you already have it on your computer, why switch to something else. The product is packaged a number of different ways, and is available as a stand alone, as part of Norton System Works, part of the Norton Internet Security package, and also in multiple forms of enterprise packages designed for business use. From this one company, you can get anything from a simple anti-spam product to an enterprise firewall appliance, and just about anything in between.

Symantec Norton is also to be credited with making free on-line scans available, as well as free anti-virus definitions in a library, along with free removal tools complete with removal tool usage instructions. This has helped many a computer user, I’m sure. I have used these tools from time to time, and they do the job well.

Symantec has purchased a number of security product companies in recent years, designed to keep them in the number one slot in this area, with new efforts in the enterprise and commercial market areas. Recent purchases or merges include Sygate and Veritas. Sygate will definitely improve their firewall technology, while Veritas will greatly improve their enterprise efforts.

The products offered, in my opinion, are fairly user friendly, and easy to use. From time to time, some of the updates offered through Live Update, the internal program update service, have not installed completely or properly for some users. To prevent these sorts of problems, I recommend that if you use the products, be sure to be logged on as an administrator when you update the program. Some updates will simply not install properly if you are logged on as a general or limited user. Unfortunately you are not warned about this prior to updating.

The changes I see in the last 5 years is that the product’s footprint has become considerably larger, and it takes a somewhat heavy use of system resources to keep it running. The Internet Security suite will consume at least 40 MB of memory from most systems if parental controls are used. During this same 5-year time span, the reaction time from release of a new threat to having a definition signature and removal capability available for update has increased considerably.

Overall, Symantec is definitely on top of the heap when it comes to security software, and they will probably remain there for quite some time. The products do what they say they do, and for the most part, the average user will be satisfied with their offerings. Just remember my recommendation to be logged on as administrator when using live update.

If you need help and cannot get the information you want from the rather large web site offered by Symantec, phone assistance is available, but will cost you $29.95 per incident.

<>McAfee-

Second place in the popularity race goes to McAfee. Similar to Symantec, they offer a number of different security products and packages. They also have packaged their product as a free trial with a number of PC manufacturers so the product will be already installed on a number of new PC’s. In recent years they have their products installed on most new Dell computers.

The products are user friendly and easy to both use and update. In practical every day use, things are very straightforward and simple, and many tasks can be automated making it almost a set-it and forget-it product for the average user.


From an enterprise standpoint, the company has many commercially oriented offerings that will protect everything from server groups to individual workstations and stand-alone units. Further, there is a division of McAfee called Foundstone Labs that offers a series of professional grade tools for the IT security professional that I feel are almost without peer. Many professionals consider these tools to be absolutely essential to their arsenal, and I wholeheartedly agree.

For the average user, this is a very sound product that makes things simple and easy to use. The footprint is compact and very efficient, and has a fast reaction time to threats it is able to recognize. It is a product that is easy on system resources, and efficient in all respects.

Similar to Symantec Norton, McAfee maintains a rather large web site to answer most questions, but if you need help from a real person, it will cost you $39.00 per incident.

<>Panda Antivirus-

Panda Anti-virus is probably one of the easiest to use products available. The user has a great comfort level due in part to the ease of navigating through the product provided by great interface screens. The product also comes with anti-spyware functionality that is a bonus.

The program is very easy on system resources, and even system scans do not slow the computer appreciably. Viruses discovered are easily dealt with requiring minimal interaction from the user. For the average user, these are all definite plus points to consider.

In my opinion, the only downsides to the program is the anti-virus protection and virus definitions are not top ranking in that the definition library is not as large as Norton or McAfee, and reaction time is not as quick. Also, if you need technical support, it is available by email only. No phone assistance of any kind is available. Unfortunate.

<>PC-Cillin-

PC-Cillin from Trend Micro offers the Internet Security package that is a comprehensive bundle consisting of anti-virus, firewall, anti-spam, anti-adware, and anti-spyware, all in one package. This may be possibly a bit confusing for some users. The anti-virus part of the product works quite well, the updates are fast and frequent, and the definitions database is huge as well. The anti-virus part of the package ranks right up there with some of the best.

In my opinion, the firewall presets miss a few too many points for my personal liking, and protection is better for incoming than outgoing packets. Because it represents a complete solution package, some features may be complicated for the average or new user, and a bit difficult to set up the way you want it. Customer support is very good and available by a toll free 800 number. A definite plus if you get into difficulties.

Although an all-in-one package, my opinion is that the anti-virus portion is very good, but the rest of the package is not up to par with it. The firewall was definitely the weak point in my opinion, and the Spyware/Adware scans missed some things that I feel should have been picked up.

<>EZAntivirus-

The name is exactly what it implies and it lives up to that name. After downloading, you enter the passkey, and the program installs and does just about everything else on its own. The interface is very clean indeed, and it really is a set-and-forget type of product. System scans run fast, and the program is pretty light on system resources.

This is a good product for people who don’t want to have to pay attention to details or worry about settings and such. Just install it and leave it alone.

In my opinion, the one downside is customer support. You have a choice of being patient with email support, or shell out $49.99 per incident.

<>Bit Defender 9 Standard –

This is a great product if you are looking for a install it and forget it program. It features low cost, and simple installation and operation. Updates are done either manually or automatically. You can also set scans to run at convenient preset times.

The program comes with many features complete with pop-ups to alert you to what is happening. If you find this annoying, you can always go into the settings and turn them off. The program is very efficient, scans are fast, and system resource usage is low. The program interface is simple and easy to use. These are all definite plus factors.

Customer support is via the web site and email. No phone contact is available.

<>Kaspersky Antivirus Personal 5.0-

This program was developed for the more advanced user. The install goes smoothly as long as you read and follow the instructions. The program features highly advanced detection techniques, and automatic removal of viruses after files are backed up. The program pre-sets are more than sufficient for less experienced users, and after installation, very little attention or program maintenance is required from the user. Updates are frequent and Kaspersky has the fastest reaction time in the industry to new threats released into the wild. The virus database is huge, and the program offers many advanced features and settings for the more advanced user. The interface is very good and makes these settings and features easy to use.

Because of the program’s size and complexity, the two-stage download and initial set of updates are quite large, but well worth the time involved to complete them. If the size and complexity scares you, there is good phone support available via an 800 number.

<>AVG Antivirus Professional-

AVG Antivirus Pro is from Grisoft. A very good yet very easy to use program that is both easy to download and easy to install. The interface is simple and easy to understand. Unlike many products from its’ competition, AVG can, in many cases, ‘heal’ infected files without deleting them. I have never had to repair the registry, nor have I had to repair or reinstall a file after virus removal with this software. I cannot say the same for some of the other products I have tried. Updates are very frequent to the huge database, and are performed either manually or automatically. If auto updates are selected, you can expect them at least daily. Priority updates are flagged as such by AVG and the program looks for them on a regular basis, not just on the update schedule you specify at a daily time. Scanning can also be manual, or on a convenient user selected schedule. Removed items are quarantined in a vault that can either contain them indefinitely, or allow them to be deleted by user choice.

Overall, the program is simple to set up and use, and very fast. Reaction time to incoming threats from both Internet and email sources beats anything else I have used. All email is scanned, both incoming and outgoing. Once you set things the way you want, you can forget it for the two-year (that’s right – two-year) license agreement. Scans are very fast and very easy on system resources.

Product support is by email. I was at first put off a bit by this, but have found the response from the technical staff on a 24/7 basis is quite fast. Any email I sent was answered in great detail, usually within a couple of hours or less. The other thing that impressed me was that my questions were actually read in detail, and no ‘canned’ answers were returned for my questions. Response time to new threats released into the wild is in the middle of the pack, and actually beats most of the big boys in respect to how fast definitions and removal tools are written. In short, this is a great product in all respects, and easy on the pocketbook as well.

<>Summary-

Here is how I would rank the above programs based on the criteria I feel are most important to the user and to his system. All are ranked on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the best.

Product Overall Price Effective Support Ease/Use
AVG Pro 9 $38.95 9 7 10
Bit Defender 8 $29.95 9 6 9
EZAntivirus 7 $29.95 8 4 9
Kaspersky 6 $34.99 9 8 5
Norton 5 $39.99 8 4 8
McAfee 5 $34.99 8 4 9
Panda 4 $49.95 7 2 6
Trend 3 $49.95 8 7 4

Please keep in mind that any anti-virus program is only effective if the definitions are kept up to date. Only you can ensure this happens through either manual frequent updates, or by the auto-update settings from within the program. This is probably the single most important factor determining your protection. The speed with which the vendor reacts to new threats, as well as the speed and frequency of updates they make available is also taken into account in my rankings above.

<>Company use –

Before closing, I want to remind the reader that these programs and rankings are for personal use on stand-alone computers. In a corporate environment where server-workstation conditions exist, the picture is considerably different, partly due to the presence of an IT staff making program complexity a moot point, and because different programs and vendors come into play.

Without taking a lot of time here by getting into a really complex article, I would recommend the following for company or commercial use:

  1. SOPHOS – just plain nobody beats SOPHOS in this arena. Their definitions are first-rate in both quality and speed, and the product is updated hourly (yes, hourly). Scans are very fast, very deep, and very thorough. Customer support is awesome as well.

  2. Kaspersky - I pick them because of their unbelievable and unbeatable speed when it comes to dealing with new threats. Huge database. Customer support is very good.

  3. Trend Micro PCCillin - Again, with an IT staff, product complexity is a non-issue. Updates are multiple times daily and scans are very fast and thorough.

  4. McAfee – Good database, fast response and scan times, very small footprint, good customer support, good variety of both software and hardware is available.

  5. Symantec Norton – Great database, thorough scans. Program needs a lot of system resources and customer support can be costly. Variety of both software and hardware (appliances) is large.

If you are going to research this on your own, keep one thing in mind when comparing how fast an AV company responds to new threats. Releasing a new signature, detection rules, and removal tools is not a simple or easy process. Quality should also be considered. The larger companies have very strict quality control procedures in place to ensure that problems are not created for the user. This kind of quality takes time to produce, so don’t let reaction time to new threats become your single deciding factor in choosing a program. Sure, speed is great, but it won’t help you much if the threat removal process is incomplete or causes other problems afterwards.

It is my sincere hope that the above information helps you weed through all the choices available for an anti-virus product and assists you in making an educated choice that will work well for you and help keep your computer(s) safe and secure.

Please remember that after installing an anti-virus program, you are not fully protected yet. You also need to have a firewall, and anti-Spyware/Adware programs to defend you as well. My intent is to cover these subjects in future papers here on the Security Center. Until then …

Regards,

Dave

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