How We Test Antivirus Software and Security Suites

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How We Test Antivirus Software and Security Suites
At PCWorld, we take security seriously. That's why we don't skimp when it comes to testing security suites and antivirus software to see which ones will keep you safe. We work closely with experts in the security testing field, who put every antivirus product we review through a veritable torture test. Here's a quick rundown of how we review and rank security products, and how we weight each aspect.

Malware Detection, Blocking, and Removal

60 percent of the overall score

To ensure that we have the most accurate and relevant malware detection, blocking, and removal test results, PCWorld teams up with AV-Test, a respected security-software testing lab based in Germany. AV-Test examines how well security software defends a PC against new and existing malware, along with how well the software cleans infections should malware make it onto the PC.

AV-Test evaluates security software through the following tests.

Blocking of real-world attacks: In this portion, AV-Test pits each software package against actual, live malware samples, and determines whether the software can fully or partially block each malware attack. This test is a good indicator of how capable a security suite or antivirus package will be at blocking brand-new malware.

Malware "zoo": In the malware "zoo" test, each security product faces a collection of thousands of malware samples from the past four months. This test is a good indicator of how well a security product will be able to block known malware.

False positives: False positives can be just as frustrating to deal with as malware infections. AV-Test checks to see whether a security software product mistakenly flags any known safe files as being potentially dangerous.

System disinfection/remediation: Stopping malware before it reaches your PC is only half the battle. Cleaning an active malware infection is the other half. This test determines how well antitivirus software can detect, disable, and fully purge active malware infections on a test PC.

Speed Tests

20 percent of the overall score

System performance impact: Some security products--especially suites--can seriously hamper your PC's performance. AV-Test runs each product through a battery of tests to discover whether it significantly slows common PC tasks, such as starting up and shutting down the machine, copying and downloading files, opening files, installing software, and opening Web pages.

Scan speed tests: The scan speed tests show how quickly a suite can check 4.5GB of data for malware. In this portion of the evaluation, AV-Test checks the performance of both the "on-demand" scanner (which runs when you manually initiate a scan) and the "on-access" scanner (which runs whenever you open or save files to disk). In general, the on-access scan performance is more important than the on-demand scan performance, since on-access scans kick in every time you open or save a file on your computer.

Design and Usability

15 percent of the overall score

Once AV-Test has completed its portion of the evaluation, we take each product we review out for a test drive to see how easy it is to use. For this portion, we base our assessment on time-limited trial versions of each product, or on evaluation copies provided by the vendor.

We take into account each product's installation/uninstallation process, its main control panel and settings screens, its documentation, and more. Since the most important part of a security product is how well it protects your PC, we don't place a whole lot of weight on usability, but a poor interface can definitely hurt a product's overall score.


5 percent of the overall score

Finally, we look at each product's specifications to determine whether it has a number of common features, and how each company's support options stack up.

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