Security Advisor

Security Essentials Fails Antivirus Test

In a three-part test that looked at accuracy, protection and false positive rates, Microsoft's free antivirus program finished at the bottom.

Researchers at the London-based Dennis Technology Labs threw Microsoft's free antivirus program, Microsoft Security Essentials (along with eight additional programs), in the testing gauntlet -- and the results were poor. The tests were done on Windows XP machines and used current real-world malware threats to measure the effectiveness of some of the most popular antivirus programs.

On an accuracy scale developed by the security lab and based on both the ability to detect and block incoming malware, Microsoft's software scored a 227 and was only successful in blocking 57 percent of attacks -- solidifying its last-place position against eight competing paid and free alternatives. The scoring was compiled by awarding a point for detecting and stopping a malware that has made its way into the system, and a point is subtracted for each one not stopped.

Topping the research lab's list was Kaspersky Internet Security 2013, which scored a 388 for identifying and blocking 97 percent of malware.

Next up, the lab tested each software on its protection capabilities. Scoring gets a little more complicated in this test:

  • Halting a malware, but not completely removing it only gains you one point.
  • Halting a malware and reversing the damage done will get you two points.
  • Completely blocking a malware from ever launching on a system will earn you three points.
  • Failing to stop a threat from causing system damage results in subtracting five points.

Once again Microsoft's Security Essentials finished poorly with 127 points, and was only able to defend against 64 percent, completely neutralize 19 percent and allowed 17 percent of malware to compromise a system. The winner in this category was BitDefender Internet Security 2013, which was the only software tested that had no compromises.

In a final test, the lab monitored how often the tested software came up with false positives -- flagging a safe program as dangerous. A point was awarded for allowing a safe program to install without any flags and lost a point for every false positive.

In a reversal of its previous poor showing in the first two tests, Microsoft's Security Essentials actually gained a perfect score of 100 by allowing every legitimate program to be installed without any issue. While most of the software also excelled in this test, only one scored less than 90 points -- ESET Security 6, which scored a low 75 by warning against two legitimate programs and completely blocking 13 safe applications.

While Microsoft's free antivirus software did make a late-game comeback, it was not enough to overcome its poor showing in the first two tests, and the fact that it was unable to block 17 percent of attacks from compromising the system meant that the lab strongly advises using one of the three top antivirus programs instead.

"Overall, considering each product's ability to handle both malware and legitimate applications, the winners were Kaspersky Internet Security2013, BitDefender Internet Security 2013 and Norton Internet Security 2013. All win the AAA award," concluded the report.

What's your take? If using Microsoft Security Essentials, do you find it performs as poorly as Dennis Technology Labs' tests found? What's your antivirus of choice? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.

About the Author

Chris Paoli is the site producer for Redmondmag.com and MCPmag.com.

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