Securing the Desktop: Eight Internet Security Suites

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Given rapidly evolving dangers such as Conficker and silent threats that lurk on otherwise innocent Web sites, having traditional antivirus software on your desktop isn't enough today. You need a security suite--with antivirus, firewall, antispam, antiphishing tools--to combat the traditional threats, stop the new Web threats, and manage all the spam and phishing sites that clog up the Internet today.

When we last looked at security suites, we caught the first wave of suites for 2009, which included products from McAfee, Trend Micro, Kaspersky, F-Secure, and other security suites. In that group, we found that suites increasingly make use of online malware checks for on-the-fly malware detection instead of relying on more traditional periodic malware signature updates. Now, in the second wave there's a decided trend toward advanced heuristic detection, though sometimes at the expense of traditional signature-based detection. For this round of testing, we received five security suites, from Australia, Romania, Israel, Germany, and the United States; each suite tested displayed a different strategy for tackling the common security problems you'll face, as well as a range of extra features. For comparison, we also retested--and reranked--the top three suites from our last roundup: Norton Internet Security, BitDefender Internet Security, and Panda Internet Security.

To evaluate the suites, PC World used the testing services of AV-Test pitted a Windows XP SP3 test machine against a combined "zoo" of 725,047 backdoor programs, bots, worms, Trojan horses, password stealers, and adware samples. Each suite was allowed to connect to the Internet to use online checks, where available. AV-test's varied methodology exposes the suites' strengths and weaknesses. Some suites tested well for traditional malware threats, while others did much better on just behavior-based protection.

After AV-Test evaluated and scrutinized each security suite, we poked and tested the suite's interface and design. Apart from pure detection, the suites exhibited a wide range of features and prices, from the full-featured suites ZoneAlarm Extreme Security, G-Data Internet Security, and AVG Internet Security to the minimalist, focused-on-malware suites from PC Tools and Comodo. and, as mentioned, we retested the top three suites from our March 2009 roundup: Norton Internet Security 2009, BitDefender Internet Security 2009, and Panda Internet Security 2009.

As we moved through each suite, we checked to see how flexible it was. For example, could we change the default settings if the presets were cranked too high, or too low, for our liking? Or were we stuck with what the manufacturer deemed appropriate? Ultimately, performance and effectiveness outweigh design, which is why we give more weight to how well a suite detected and disinfected malware, as well as to how fast it scanned for malware. In the final rankings we also considered price, support, usability, and features.

In the end, G-Data Internet Security 2010 had the right mix of test scores, security features, and usability. Rounding out the top five were Norton Internet Security 2009, BitDefender Internet Security 2010, Panda Internet Security 2009, and AVG Internet Security 8.5.

Below are links to each security suite's review, in alphabetical order, and to our chart:

For additional security news coverage, reviews of security programs, and tips on making your computing experience safer, see our Security Topic Center.

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